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Reprinted for private circulation from 
Modern Philology, Vol. XII, N0.4, October 1914 

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Reprinted for private circulation from 
Modern Philology, Vol. XII, N0.4, October 1014 

J ^ 

Modern Philology 

Volume XII October IQI4 Number 4 


In Shakespeare criticism, as in most things Anglo-Saxon but 
sport, there has been little professionalism. The best as well as the 
worst of our scientists and artists have done their work without 
learning how to do it, and our critics, like our soldiers, have won 
their Waterloos on cricket fields. For two hundred and fifty years 
Englishmen and Americans have been writing about the character 
of Falstaff, and hardly three or four of these have been students of 
the stage. Since 1777 they have followed in the steps of Maurice 
Morgann,' a country gentleman of philosophfc bent and literary taste 
who seems to have known little of the acted drama and to have 
loVed it less. In reading Shakespeare he is not reminded of Plautus 
or Terence, of Fletcher or Moliere. We all know what sort of 
opinions, in ignorance of technique and historic development, were 
entertained in Morgann's time by men so delicate in sensibility as 
Walpole and Shelley, concerning Greek sculpture, Italian painting, 
and Gothic architecture; and is it likely that his opinion concern- 
ing Falstaff, though in England and America it has stood now for 
much more than a century, should be less fallible ? Time establishes 
institutions, not truth. But though still we may hear that pointed 
construction was the immediate expression of the gloom and aspira- 
tion of the Middle Ages, and that groined vaulting and pillared aisles 
were devised in imitation of God's first temple, the over-arching 

1 An Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff, often since reprinted, and 
twice within tlie last ten years. 
197] 65 [MoDEEN Philology, October, 1914'itmmm,- 

66 Elmer Edgae Stoll 

forest, Anglo-Saxons have had their eyes opened to the technique 
of art as not to the technique of the play. What might be called 
the external history of the drama has been explored, but technique 
has been neglected, and still anybody ventures to write on Shake- 
speare who has a style and taste. Few among these would appreciate 
the remark of Stevenson that to read a play is as difi&cult as to read 
musical score. And to read an old play is as difficult as to read old 

Morgann reads like a true Romantic, and discovers in the effect 
of Falstaff upon us in the two Parts of Henry IV an opposition 
between feeling and the understanding. "Shakespeare has con- 
trived to make secret impressions upon us of courage in favor of 
a character which was to be held up for sport and laughter on 
account of actions of apparent cowardice and dishonor." Fal- 
staff 's conduct is cowardly; his character, that subtler essence, is 
courageous.' Contrary to what we might expect, the cowardice 
and dishonor, which are perceived by the understanding, are the 
obvious traits, those "thrust forward and pressed upon our notice"; 
and the favorable mental impressions are attained to in the case of 
Morgann himself, not by the mystical faculty alleged, but through 
dehberate conjecture and devious ratiocination, that is, by the 
understanding, too. Whatever the process, the direct effect of the 
incidents of Gadshill and Shrewsbury, of Falstaff's confessions, and of 
the downright ridicule of him by the Prince, Lancaster, and Poins, is 
counteracted, he thinks, by inferences from the incidental testimony 
of characters such as Doll Tearsheet, Shallow, Lord Bardolph, and the 
Chief- Justice, and by such circumstances as his earher "familiarity" 
with John of Gaunt, a "dozen captains" calling him to court, and 
his appearance once on the eve of battle in the presence of the King. 
At times the critic goes farther, and, in the faith that Shakespeare's 
characters are "essentially different from those of other WTiters," 
considers Falstaff as if he were an "historic rather than dramatic 
being, "^ inquiring adventurously into his hopeful youth, his family, 
and his station, and inferring from these that he must have had the 

1 Cf., among many, Professor Bradley, Oxford Lectures, The Rejection of Falstaff, 
p. 265: "sometimes behaves in a cowardly way, but that does not show that he was a 

' Ed. 1S20, pp. 61, 66. 


Falstaff 67 

constitutional instincts of courage although he had lost the principles 
which ordinarily accompany them.' So firmly has this notion of 
Falstaff as a real person taken hold of him that now and then he 
breaks out into exclamations against the "malice" from which 
Falstaff's reputation suffers, appeals to the reader's good nature to 
right him, and when confronted with the more unequivocal acts and 
utterances of his favorite can but call them "unfortunate," and, as 
if he were a friend in trouble, deplore his loquacity in soliloquy and 
"imprudence" in deed.^ In this spirit of unaesthetic kindliness, 
and in accordance with his principle of preferring to the prominent 
and obvious what is latent and obscure, he discredits the testimony 
of Lancaster and Poins as prompted by envy and ill-will, and the 
Prince's as given in raillery, makes much of the compliment implied 
in the surrender of that "famous knight and most valorous enemy" 
Colville of the Dale, and is of the opinion that a man who takes 
captives, and jests and dallies on a battlefield, has not got so 
frightened as to lose his presence of mind. Love of humor is the 
mainspring of his character: he falls flat at Shrewsbury for a jest 
and none of his lies and braggadocios is intended to deceive. The 
escapade of Gadshill, which in the story Shakespeare puts first, 
Morgann considers, as the "source of much unreasonable prejudice," 
last, and even if it must be thought an exhibition of cowardice holds 
it to be a single exception. The virtue of the jest afterward at 
Eastcheap is in the "reproof of the lies," which are but humor, and 
not in the exposure of the cowardice, which is a venial and mo- 
mentary aberration. 

In sum and substance and often in minute detail these views have 
been reproduced by English critics since' — by Coleridge and Swin- 
burne, by Hazlitt, Lloyd, and Maginn, who make a jest even of the 
flight from Gadshill, and most elaborately, though most subtly of 

1 There is excellent comment on tliis trick of Morgann's and its effect on Shakespeare 
criticism since, in Mr. A. B. Walkley's Drama and Life: Professor Bradley's Hamlet. 
I cannot help thinking, however, that the fallacy would have prevailed even had Morgann 
never perpetrated it. 

2 Critics have kept something of this tone of the apologist to the present day, as 
Professor Bradley. Oiford Lectures, pp. 266, 26S, note. 

3 This is my only justification for paying so much attention to the ingenious but 
implausible arguments of a critic so far removed in time; this, and the stamp of approval 
laid upon them by Swinburne. Professor Bradley, and perhaps most remarkable of all, 
the student of roguery. Professor F. H. Chandler, in his introduction to Henry lY in 



68 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

all, by Professor A. C. Bradley. His main achievement is the 
development, after Rotscher and others, of Morgann's notion of 
Falstaff as a "military freethinker" into that of one who by his 
humor dissolves away into words and airy nothings not only honor 
but those other obstacles and "nuisances" — truth, duty, devotion 
to one's country, the terrors of death and religion, everything in 
short that makes life real and earnest, thereby "lifting us into an 
atmosphere of perfect freedom."' Among the Germans Falstaff 
the philosopher has passed unchallenged, but among these students 
of the technique and history of the drama he has generally had to 
bear the badge of a coward too. 

Johnson scoffed at his friend Morgann's innovation, and critics 
since have been disposed to pay him back in his coin. But they 
would hardly have been so quick to do it to Dryden, though 
twice explicitly and without qualification he calls Falstaff liar, coward, 
glutton, and buffoon. ^ And Thomas Fuller, Oldmixon, and all the 
seventeenth century with them take it for granted that he is nothing 
else.^ Since then the world had moved on a bit; yet a critical 
opinion on the drama propounded amid all the vagaries of the hey- 
day of Romanticism, by one neither a dramatist nor a student of 
the drama, is on the face of it quite as questionable as the contrary 
opinion which till then had stood unimpeached. 

Not only is Morgarm strangely confused and contradictory in 
that, finding the circumstances creditable to Falstaff thrown into 
the background, and the "follies and the buffoonery" thrown into 
the foreground, he calls us, who attach greater importance to the 
latter, the dupes of our wisdom and systematic reasoning, but thus 

the Tudor edition. Even the Germans, as I suggest below, owe more to Morgann than 
they may be aware. Among English critics two conspicuous exceptions are Mr. Court- 
hope (History of English Poetry, IV, 114) and Mr. E. K. Chambers {Red Letter Shakespeare, 
introduction to Henry IV, Part II) ; but they give no reasons and permit themselves no 
more than an oracular sentence. 

1 Oxford Lectures, pp. 262-63. 

' Essay of Dramatic Poesy (Every Man's Library), p. 43: "old, fat, merry, cowardly, 
drunken, amorous, vain, and lying"; Ingleby's Shakespeare Allusion-Book (ed. Munro), 
II, 246: "a lyar, a coward, a Glutton, and Buflon, because all these qualities may agree 
in the same man." 

> Ingleby, op. cit.; Fuller, I, 486, "make-sport in all plays for a coward": II, 43, 
"coward," "B>ifIoone": Oldmixon. II. 431; George Daniel, I, 507; cf. Captain Alex- 
ander Smith, Compleat History of the Lives and Robberies, etc., 1719, I, 1 f., who takes it 
that Shakespeare intended him for "a grand coward." and what Mr. Chandler. Litera- 
ture of Roguery, p. 175, says about his thinking Falstaff none, has to do only with the 
Fastolf of history and legend. 


Falstaff 69 

and otherwise he betrays a total misapprehension of dramatic method, 
whether of his own or of an earlier time. It is all too plain that he 
cannot read score. To him, as to many another philosopher and 
literateur, Shakespeare is not score to be played, but a book to be 
read; and a really great dramatist is one who dupes us, deliberately 
misplaces the emphasis, transcendentally baffles men's wits. Yet 
of all dramatists down to Dumas and Ibsen — and even of them — 
the contrary is the case. What is in the foreground is important; 
what is in the background is less important, and, in Shakespeare and 
the Elizabethans, often epically, rather than dramatically and psycho- 
logically, in keeping.! j^^j what stands first in the play, as the 
cowardly flight from Gadshill, is most important of all and dominates 
the whole. Besides these simple principles of dramatic emphasis and 
perspective, which in our discussion will constantly be illustrated, 
Morgann and his followers ignore the various hints of the poet as 
embodied in the established conventions of the time — the confessions 
in soliloquy, the comments and predictions of important undiscredited 
characters like the Prince and Poins, and various devices and bits 
of "business," like Falstaff 's roaring as he runs and his falling flat 
in battle. All these are as much means of expression as the Eliza- 
bethan vocabulary of the text, and yet they are treated as if they had 
no fixed and definite meaning — as if, as someone has said, the book 
had dropped from the skies; and the playwright and his time 
vanish from his play. So far has this gone that, as we have seen, 
inquiry presses coolly by him to the character's lineage, financial 
and social experiences, and his past as a whole. It was but yester- 
day that an Elizabethan scholar contended that we had a right to 
do this, and that characters in plays, particularly in Shakespeare's, 
were not imreal like statues and paintings. They can think, talk, 
and walk — they are bits of real life, not art! 

On the principle that what is most prominent is most important 
surely there is no need to dwell: of art it is the beginning and end. 
Of the correlative principle that the first impression is designedly 
the dominant one there is in the case of Shylock a remarkable illus- 
tration which I have exhibited elsewhere,- and even in the plays of 

'See my article "Hamlet and lago," Kittredge Anniversary Papers (Boston, 1913). 
'See in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 1911, my article "Shylock," 
pp. 240-41. 


70 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

Ibsen we have only apparent exceptions to the rule. If Helmer in 
the Doll's House is not the heroic character, and Nora not the frivo- 
lous one, they may at first appear to be, that first impression is cor- 
rected not by "secret" impressions and insignificant details such as 
Morgann discovers, but by subsequent revelations which loom large 
and for which every preparation has been made. They do not 
counteract and contradict; they consummate and fulfil; and the 
same character moves and wavers, discloses itself and shrinks 
together again, before our eyes. Ibsen makes us the dupes, not of 
our wisdom but of our stupidity, and then for no more than moments. 
Such plays, however, are not Shakespeare's; his involve processes 
which unfold primarily not character but events; and at the end, 
except for casual conversions, his characters are pretty much what 
they were at the beginning. Falstaff is as much of a coward sprawl- 
ing on Shrewsbury Field as running down Gadshill. What, then, do 
these facts mean? as Mr. Bradley asks after having detailed the 
"secret impressions." "Does Shakespeare put them all in with no 
purpose at all, or in defiance of his own intention ? " He never defies 
his own intention, I suppose, save in the hands of us critics. The 
incongruities, as I hope presently to show, are either necessarily or 
traditionally involved in the type of the miles gloriosus which he is 
here undertaking to exhibit; or they are incidental to the current 
convention of the professional comic person on the stage; or else 
they are such contradictions and irrelevancies as Shakespeare, writ- 
ing for the stage and not for the study, slips into continually, 
examples of which in one play have, with admirable discernment, 
been collected by Mr. Bradley himself.^ 

Meantime we take it that, standing first, "this unfortunate 
affair" of Gadshill is meant to prejudice us. In itself it is an example 
of the old device of a practical joke on the stage, not disdained by 
Moliere and Goldoni, Goldsmith and Sheridan, any more than by 
the Elizabethans, and in farce not extinct today. According to 
Elizabethan usage a foolish character — a braggart, or a coward, or a 
conceited ass like Malvolio, or even a merry misogynist like Benedick 

1 Shakespearean Tragedy, pp. 265-68. The contradictions involved in Shakespeare's 
time-references, again, are without number; since the days of Wilson they have been 
turned into a miracle of art. 


Falstaff 71 

— is, by conspiracy, fooled to the top of his bent, and in the end made 
aware of it and jeered at. Of this there are many instances in the 
comedies of Shakespeare, as in those of Marston, Chapman, Dekker, 
and the rest of the craft. Always the expectations of the practical 
jokers — as here in Falstaff 's cowardly conduct and "incomprehen- 
sible lies" — ^are fulfilled, and the victim's ridiculous sayings and 
doings cast in his teeth. Sometimes he loses temper, like Malvolio 
and Benedick; sometimes he takes to his wits to cover his retreat, 
like Falstaff. But at the outset he steps into the trap laid for him, 
unawares. There is no instance of a character making a fool of 
himself on purpose — playing the coward on purpose^ and then 
playing the ludicrous braggart afterward. To an audience such an 
ambiguous situation would have been incomprehensible. In Part II, 
when the Prince and Poins overhear Falstaff slandering them, they 
force him this time to admit that he did not know them as well as 
the Lord that made them. In neither incident could he have played 
a part any more than ParoUes when he slanders and, as he thinks, 
betrays his master and all the leaders of his army;^ in either case we 
have a convention, a bit of stage language, we might say, almost 
as precise and ascertainable in meaning as any old word or phrase 
in the text, but then current in the same acceptation on the Con- 
tinent and in after times as well. The overhearing and confronting 
of the backbiter or plain-speaker is a device employed in Le monde 
ou Von s'ennuie^ as in the Fourberies de Sea-pin. 

There are indeed some few instances of the victim, not a fool as 
thought, detecting the trap; but he gets even, like the Merry Wives 
of Windsor, not by stepping into it with a still smile, but by leading 

' Unlike many, Morgann and Mr. Bradley do not think tliat Falstaff runs away 
on purpose, tiiougli tliey do think that liis lying afterward is in jest. Others think that 
he takes the lilnt and turns earnest to jest in the midst of liis bucliram story; 

Prince: Prithee let him aione: we shall have more anon. 

Fal.: Dost thou hear me. Hal 7 

Prince: Ay, and mark thee too, Jack. 

Fal.: Do so, for it is worth listening to. 

The first speech is certainly an aside — by the second that is clearly indicated. If 
at the last speech Falstaff sees that he is detected, still he does not save his reputation 
or cleverness, about which the critics are concerned, for he has been tripped up repeatedly 
already; and the cardinal stupidity lies in the tale as a whole. 

2 AlVs Well, IV, i. 

3 III, i. Darlcness here takes the place of disguise, as mistaken identity does in the 
Fourberies where Zerbinette has her say about Gfironte to his face. 


72 Elmeb Edgar Stoll 

the joker into it or setting one of his own. In that case the victim 
makes his detection of the trap quite clear to the audience in aside 
or soliloquy. Whenever in Elizabethan drama a character is feign- 
ing we are informed of it. That Prince Hal is playing the roysterer 
on purpose he himself tells us twice over,i but that Falstaff is playing 
coward, liar, or thief on purpose is intimated neither by him nor by 
anyone else. 

That thus we read Shakespeare, not by his own light only, but 
also by that of his contemporaries, appears from the parallel situa- 
tion in the second and third acts of the First Part of Heywood's 
Fair Maid of the West.^ Attacked in the fields by Bess in the dis- 
guise of a man, the boasting and swaggering Roughman shows the 
white feather, but afterward boasts to her of his deeds, is led on by 
her simulated interest and sympathy, entangled and tripped up in 
his lies, and finally put to confusion when all the facts are laid bare. 
Like Falstaff he incurs ridicule, if not for counting noses and telling 
buckram from Kendal green when it is so dark that he cannot see 
his own hand, at least for justling with the enemy for the wall in 
raid-field. Like Falstaff he tells how and when he "took" the 
blows and "put them by." "I was never so put to it" (I never 
dealt better). "I think I paid him home" (seven of the eleven I 
paid). "Scap'd he with life ?" (pray God, you have not murder'd 
some of them). "Ay, that's my fear: if he recover this," etc. (nay, 
that's past praying for). That Roughman is a coward no one can 
doubt, "for he himself has said it";' and manifestly the whole point 
in the "reproof of his lies," as of Falstaff 's, is the ignominy of 
cowardice. The two things are inseparable; no dramatist — no 
one but a metaphysician — would think of separating them, or of 
having a liar confuted who is lying for fun. 

Falstaff's cowardice appears still more clearly when the Gadshill 
incident is viewed in detail. There is the testimony of the Prince, 
Poins, and Falstaff himself. Four times the Prince flatly calls him 
coward to his face.* The only time Falstaff attempts to deny it — on 
Gadshill— the Prince replies, "Well, we leave that to the proof"; 

1 Part I, I, ii, 160, 218-40. 

2 Published in 1631; probably written belore 1603. 
s Fair Maid, Part I, III, i, 296 (.Worhs, 1874). 

r < Part I, II, ii, 69; iv. 268, 542; Part II, II, iv, 353. 


Falstafp 73 

and it comes speedily. Poins's estimate of his character has been 
subjected to the most undramatic and hair-splitting comment imagi- 
nable:' "Well, for two of them, I know them to be as true-bred 
cowards as ever turned back; and for the third, if he fight longer 
than he sees reason, I'll forswear arms" (I, ii, 205). Certainly the 
latter half of the sentence contains no praise, however faint; it is 
followed by the remark about "the incomprehensible lies that this 
same fat rogue will tell us." Here or anywhere Poins, or Shakespeare 
himself, is not the man to distinguish between conduct and character, 
principles and constitution, a coward and a courageously consistent 
Epicurean; and this can only be a case of understatement and irony. 
Falstafl himself admits that he was a coward on instinct,^ and at 
Shrewsbury says to himself, "I fear the shot here," "I am afraid of 
this Percy," and makes his words good by stabbing the corpse. 
Against such an interpretation Morgann and his followers murmur, 
bidding us remember his age and his peculiar philosophy, the cor- 
rupting example of his associates, the odds against him, and the sud- 
denness of the assault; but on the Elizabethan comic stage, or any 
popular stage, where of course there are no relentings toward cow- 
ardice (there being none even toward things beyond control, as 
cuckoldom, poverty, physical ugliness, or meanness of birth), nobody 
confesses to fear but a coward, a child, or a woman. All of Shake- 
speare's cowards, like his villains, bear their names written in their 
foreheads, and his true men, like Don Quixote in the eyes of Sancho, 
neither know nor understand what fear or dismay is. 

How little Morgann regarded dramatic method and stage-craft 
is nowhere more evident than at this early moment in the episode: 

Peio: How many be there of them ? 

Gadshill: Some eight or ten. 

Fal.: Zounds, will they not rob us ? 

Prince: What, a coward. Sir John Paunch? 

Fal.: Indeed, I am not John of Gaunt, etc.^II, ii. 

This he finds to be hardly more of a confession' than the Prince's 
own remark to Poins as they plan their trick in the second scene of 
Act I: "Yea, but I doubt they will be too hard for us." The latter 

■ By Morgann first, and, without the hair-splitting, by many after him, including 
Swinburne and Bradley. 

' Part I, II, iv, 300-301. ' P. 126. 


74 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

remark is casual, being meant only to call forth Poins's comment 
(quoted above) on their companions' timorous natures, whereas 
Falstaff's speech is uttered after the limelight has been turned full 
upon him — the audience has been apprised of his cowardice, the 
business is afoot, and the booty at hand. Thus everything has been 
nicely calculated to give his abrupt exclamation full comic value and 
"bring down the house," as anybody would see but one who on 
principle had already blurred dramatic perspective and jumbled 

'f That Falstaff is not dissembling is still more evident from the 
management of the ensuing scene. Immediately after the robbery 
of the travelers he calls Poins and the Prince cowards, and swaggers. 
Now the coward charging the brave with cowardice,' like the coward 
boasting of his courage,^ is a perennial situation, on the stage or off 
it. ParoUes, Panurge, the two Jodelets of Scarron, and the cowards 
of the " character "-writers are examples; and in our time an audi- 
ence knows as well what it means when such a charge comes from the 
lips of one already discredited as when a drunken man declares that 
he is not drunk. To clinch the business, immediately upon his words 
follows the ironical dramatic reversal and traditional comic situation 
of the robbery of the robbers,' and the fat rogue roaring and running 
away. What dunce in the audience could now fail to follow the 
drift ? And when Falstaff, with his craven crew, bursts in, sweating 
to death, upon Hal and Poins at the inn, he still cries out on cowards, 
again and again, as he drinks. Then, when he has caught his breath, 
come the "incomprehensible lies" of the men in buckram and 
Kendal green, the acting out of the combat— wards, blows, and 
extremities — and the swindling exhibit of battered buckler, bloodied 
garments, and hacked sword. And just like the coward denying 
his cowardice and the drunken man denying his drunkenness, he 
now cries, "I tell thee what, Hal, if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face, 
call me horse!" "Wilt thou believe me, Hal?" he says on a like 

' Basilisco, Soliman and Perseda (1588), II, ii. 67-80; III. ii, 30; Parolles, Alls 
Well. IV, iii, 321; Jodelet, Maitre-VaUt. I, iii and v; Jodelet Duetlisle: Panurge, Rabelais, 
IV, chap. 24. John Earle, Microcosmography (1628), The Coward; "A coward is the 
man that is commonly most fierce against the coward." 

» All cowards in the drama boast. CI., besides those cited above, the popular types, 
Capitano, Harlequin, Scaramouche. Cf. Maurice Sand, Masques ei Bouffons, H, 25S. 

3 Eckhardt. Die lustige Person, pp. 151-52. ■ ,' 


Falstaff 76 

occasion, again much misdoubting in his bluster; "three or four 
bonds apiece and a seal ring of my grandfather's." We have seen 
him fighting, we know his "old ward" and how he "bore his point," 
and at these we laugh as at the "eight-penny matter" of the bonds 
and ring. Even if we should suspect him of saying it all for fun, on 
the spur of the moment, we now learn from blushing Bardolph of 
"his monstrous devices" — that like the cowardly Dericke of the 
Famous Victories of Henry F' he had persuaded them all to tickle 
their noses with speargrass, and to hack their swords with their 
daggers. As the precious coward Parolles, who thinks also of cutting 
his garments and breaking his Spanish sword, plans to do, he had 
given himself some hurts, though "slight" ones, and now swears 
he had "got them in exploit."^ Here are all the conventional and 
traditional tricks of cowardice,' and on the exposure of cowardice 
the comic effect of the scene depends as much as on the reproof 
of the lies. 

Ah! je le veux charger ce maistre fanfaron: 
On ne peut I'estre tant, et n'estre pas poltron. 

Just there is the point of twitting him with his boasting lies and 
excuses; but twice in the scene the Prince calls him coward into 
the bargain, and casts it up to him that he "hacked his sword and 
then said it was in fight. "^ "What a slave art thou!" Hal says 

Nor by his shifts and evasions, "I knew ye" and "instinct," 
does he come off safe and sound. Throughout the rest of the scene 
and even in Part II he is twitted with them.* "No more of that, 
Hal," he cries, "an thou lovest me"; and that is not the tone 
of triumph. Even in the midst of this scene his cowardice breaks 
out spontaneously anew. "Zounds," cries Poins, "an ye call me 
coward, I'll stab thee." And the fat man sidles off, comically enough 

' 15S5-8S. As is well known. Shakespeare was acquainted with the play, and drew 
from it the traits of Falstaff's cowardice, thievishness. and loose Uving, the touches of 
repentance and sanctimoniousness, and liis friendship with Hal. 

!See All's Well, IV, i. for all these details; cf. Pistol, Henry V, V, i. 93-94: 
And patches wUl I get unto these cudgell'd scars. 
And swear I got them in the Gallia wars. 

3 Aside from the other instances cited, there is that in Tbeophrastus, Characters, 
cap. XXV. iii. where the coward "smears himself with another's blood to show," etc. 
'II, iv, 2SS: "Coward": Unes 268, 5-12. 
' II, iv, 332-35. 


76 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

giving the words just on his lips the lie: "I call thee coward! I'll 
see thee damned ere I call thee coward/'^ etc. Just so he falters 
and his bluster rings loud but hollow when in Part II the Servant 
of the Chief-Justice begs leave to tell him that he lies in his throat. 
"I give thee leave to tell me so! If thou gettest any leave of me, 
hang me!"^ 

Through the rest of the play his cowardice is, as Morgann droUy 
confesses, still "thrust forward and pressed upon our notice."' 
Shakespeare will have him a coward if Morgann won't. When 
he hears the news of the uprising he ingenuously asks the Prince 
whether he is not horribly afeard, and in reply is told that the 
Prince lacks some of his instinct. When ordered off to the North 
he wishes this tavern were his drum; and on the eve of the fray 
he whimpers, "I would 'twere bed-time, Hal, and all well,"* and 
then says his catechism of dishonor. Standing by as Hal and 
Hotspur come together, he proves to be as good at encouraging 
others to fight as the white-livered Moron and Panurge.^ Then he 
falls flat and feigns death like clowns and cowards in the hour of 
danger, not in England only but in contemporary Germany, Spain, 
and Italy,* and above all sets the seal on his cowardice by the das- 
tardly blow and by hatching the scheme to take the honor of killing 
Hotspur to himself. "I'll swear I killed him," he says, "nothing 
confutes me but eyes and nobody sees me"; and could anything 
more effectively contradict the opinion that he "stood on the ground 

1 11, iv. 160. ! Part II, I, ii, 99; cf. II, iv, 344. s Pp. 3, 47. 

• "This articulated wish is not the fearful outcry of a coward, but the frani and 
honest breathing of a generous fellow, who does not expect to be seriously reproached 
with the character" (Morgann, p. 83). Even in our day, on the stage or off it, a char- 
acter of Falstafl's reputation would not risk the confession with impunity. How much 
less in more rough-and-ready times I 

' Princesae d' Elide, I. iii, where, perched in a tree. Moron urges on the archers to 
kill the bear; and Rabelais, II, chap. 29, where Panurge cheers on his master. 

• Locrine (1586), II, vi, Strumbo: Beolco (Ruzzante), First Dialogue; see Creize- 
nach, IV, 340, for both; Cicognlni, Convitato di Pietra (published before 1650), sc. 7, 
where Passarino falls flat to save himself, though not by feigning death; Calderon, 
Principe Constante, I, xiv, Brito, the gracioso; and for this "business" in contemporary 
Germany cf. Creizenach, Englische Comodianten, p. cv. In Have with You to Saffron 
Walden (1596), moreover, Nash, referring to an epigram of Campion's on Barnabe 
Barnes, and much exaggerating the tenor of the te.xt, remarks: "He shewes how hee 
bragd when he was in France he slue ten men, when (fearfull cowbaby [coward]) he 
never heard peice shot off but he fell flat on his face." And in the character of the' 
"coward" Nicholas Breton (TAe Goode and the Badde, 1616) says that he "falls flat on 
his face when he hears the cannon." 


Falstaff 77 

of natural courage only and common sense, and renounced that 
grinning idol of military zealots, honor,"' than his undertaking, like 
the pitiful poltroons, Pistol, Parolles, and Bessus,^ to filch "bright 
honor," which the man fallen at his feet had boldly plucked ? Such 
wreaking of one's self on a dead body, moreover, is, like his "playing 
possum," one of the established lazzi of the coward on the stage. 
Moron beats the bear once it is dead; the Franc Archier de BaigTiol- 
let (c. 1480) beats the scarecrow once he recognizes it as such, and in 
Shakespeare's time clowns played pranks on corpses both in England 
and in Germany.' Here in the battle, then, is a little heap of 
situations, lazzi, or bits of business, all stamped as those of a coward, 
not only intrinsically, but by immemorial custom; and it is difficult 
to see how Shakespeare could have effaced that impression even had 
he tried. 

In the Second Part the "satyr, lecher, and parasite" in FalstafI 
are uppermost, and the captain rests on his laurels. But we all 
know how they were won, and cannot take to heart his reputation 
for valor with certain ladies of Eastcheap, Justice Shallow, or even 
the enemy at Shrewsbury and at Gaultree Forest. The effect of 
Dame Quickly's and Doll Tearsheet's praise of his prowess in 
stabbing and foining would be inconsiderable even if, with most 
of the English critics, including Professor Bradley himself,* we failed 
to detect the palpable double entendre.^ And what a witness is 

' Morgann. p. 103. 

a Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King. He declares to the audience that 
he will swear that the knife in his hand is all that is left of the sword which he had vowed 
to make his enemy eat. For Pistol and Parolles see above, p. 75. 

' Princesse d' Elide, Interm. ; Recueil Picot et Nyrop, line 35.5. Their motives, of 
course, are different, for Falstafl's Is his fear that Hotspur may come to life and hia 
craving for the honor and profit of killing him; cf. Creizenach, Englische ComBdianCen, 
p. cv; Romeo and Juliet, III, i, 145 (Creizenach). In Soliman and Perseda Piston robs 
a corpse (II, i). 

* Oxford Lectures, p. 266. 

'Part II, II, i, 15; II. iv, 252. For the former cf. Schmidt's Lexicon under stab. 
and Julius Caesar, I, ii. 277. As for the second reference, foin must be used with the 
meaning evident in Beaumont and Fletcher's Loyal Subject, I, iv; Thierry and Theodoret, 
II, iii. So Part II, II. i, 21-22, thrust; cf. the frequent instances of double entendre in the 
words pike, lance, target, etc. Their equivalents are to be found contemporaneously in 
foreign languages, as Italian; for such jokes are international. And the obscene joke so 
certain in atab, foin, and thrust, which immediately precede and follow Quickly's remark 
that "a' cares not what mischief he does if his weapon be out" (I. 16), casts grave sus- 
picion even on its simplicity and honesty of purpose, though not in Mr. Bradley's eyes 


78 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

Shallow, whose "every third word is a lie," whose every word is 
ludicrous! Well might Falstaff break Skogan's head ("some boister- 
ous fencer," thinks Morgann, but really Court Fool) on that day 
in the calendar when Shallow himself fought Sampson Stockfish, 
fruiterer!^ That was a day that ended "without the perdition of 
souls." And a ballad, as Falstaff says, not sober history, is the 
place for his capture of Colville and drubbing of Pistol. The Ancient 
ran from him like quicksilver; and Colville surrendered "more of his 
courtesy," says Lancaster, "than your deserving." Our knight's 
reputation for valor had been as lightly won as that of Bessus, though 
he has not Bessus' reason to lament it.^ Obviously Lancaster and 
the audience know more about that and his character, too, than 
Colville, and if Shakespeare had had any notion of redeeming him 
in our eyes, he would not have had his "pure and immaculate 
valor" snubbed by his chief. 

The famous soliloquy which follows, on sack as the cause of all 
wit and valor, is the epilogue to the old reveller's military career and 
an epitome of his character. It is an old saw and familiar fact 
that wine makes cowards brave,' and Falstaff speaks out (though 
behind his hand) when he says that men are but fools and cowards 
without it. 

(KAfter this nmning comment on the two Parts of Henry 7F we 
might, if it were necessary, further strengthen the case against 
Falstaff's courage by considering how Shakespeare's character con- 
tinues and develops* the dramatic and legendary tradition concern- 
ing Sir John Fastolf, or Falstaff,^ and Sir John Oldcastle, Lord 
Cobham. As is well known our knight bore the name Oldcastle. 
in the original draft of Part I, like the cowardly, thievish loose-liver 

' For the coward fighting a coward, see below, p. 83. Stockfish was "haddocke or 
hake beaten with clubbes or stockes," and a fruiterer was at least as tame as a tailor. 

2 A King and No King, III, ii. Like Falstaff's it is not of his- earning, and it em- 
barrasses him with challenges. Falstaff indeed complains of his name being terrible to 
the enemy, but there he is frankly joking, 

' Somerville, The Wife, 1. 27. It is a notion found in popular lore, as in the story 
of the mouse which, after drinking spilt brandy, cries, " Now bring on that cati " On the 
stage. Lady Macbeth confesses that she has drunk wine to stiffen her nerves; and the 
heroine in La Tosca actually drinks it. 

* For this see W. Baeske, Oldcasile-Falstaff bis Shakespeare. 

' In plays at least the name is spelled both ways. See J. Gairdner, Studies in Eng- 
lish History, pp. 64—65. 


Falstafp 79 

in the Famous Victories. These traits as well as the rags and tatters 
of piety which both have about them are taken from the Lollard as 
traduced in monkish chronicle and popular song. And when, at 
the complaint of the contemporary Lord Cobham, Shakespeare was 
moved to make amends to the martyr in the epilogue to Part II, 
and change the name to Falstaff in the text, he dropped one coward 
of popular and dramatic tradition only to take up another. In the 
First Part of Henry VI, Act III, scene ii, Sir John Fastolf, who in 
fact lost a battle in France, runs ignominiously away to "save him- 
self." In real life both Sir Johns were brave and worthy fellows;' 
they are thus overwhelmed with obloquy because in the popular 
imagination one charge, as this of heresy^ or that of cowardice, 
brings every other in its trail;' but all that concerns us here is that 
in Shakespeare they are cowards because they were that before. 
Our poet always stands by public opinion, and his English kings or 
Roman heroes are to him what they were to his age. Even to the 
dramatist of our day, as Mr. Archer observes, "a hero must be (more 
or less) a hero, a villain (more or less) a villain, if accepted tradition 
so decrees it ... . Fawkes must not be made an earnest Presby- 
terian, Nell Gwynn a model of chastity, or William the Silent 
a chatterbox." Sit Medea ferox invictaque, flebilis Ino. 

I have suggested that many of the " secret impressions of courage " / 
are contradictions inherent in the type of the braggart captain. 
For to this type Falstaff unquestionably belongs. He has the in- 
creasing belly and decreasing leg,* the diminutive page for a foil, 
the weapon (his pistol) that is no weapon, but a fraud, ^ as well as 

1 For Falstaff previous to Shakespeare see Gairdner, the Dictionary of National 
Biography (Oldcastle and Pastoll), and Baeske. 

' As has been remarked, I think, by others, the Lollard Oldcastle as buffoon is a 
parallel to the " Christian" as a stock comic figure in the late Greek mimus. 

» See below, p. SO. • Part II, I, 11, 204. 

» Aristophanes' Kleonymus is of enormous size ; PyrgopoUnices has long spindling 
legs, and most of the braggart soldiers have these, or a big paunch, or, like the Maccus 
of the atellans and sometimes PollchineUe, both the one and the other. Lilce the two latter 
characters and the English Punch, strange to say, Falstaff, in Morgann's time and per- 
haps earUer, was represented with a hump behind as well as before; for (p. 26) he recalls 
with horror the "round tortoise-back," produced by " I know not what stuffing or con- 
trivance." Sancho Panza begins as a miles, for (I, chap. 9) he has a big belly, short 
flgiore, and long legs, though afterward we hear no more of them. For the weapon see 
below. Their courage being called in question, as is the case with the above characters 
and with Falstaff and Sir Tophas, it is in the spirit of ancient and Renaissance comic art, 
which delighted in physical contrasts, that their size of itself should almost be sufficient 




80 Elmer Edgab Stoll 

most of the inner qualities of this ancient stage-figure — cowardice 
and outlandish bragging, gluttony and lechery, sycophancy and 
pride. Also he is a recruiting officer and (though in the Merry Wives 
of Windsor) a suitor gulled.^ All these traits are manifest, except 
his sycophancy, which appears in his dependence on the Prince and 
his cajoling ways with him; and except his pride, which appears 
in his insistence on his title on every occasion,'' and in his reputation 
for a proud jack among the drawers.' Lyly's Sir Tophas, Jonson's 
Bobadill and Tucca, Beaumont's Bessus, Chapman's Braggadino 
and Quintiliano,* Ralph Roister Doister, Ambidexter, and Thersites, 
as well as Shakespeare's Pistol, Don Armado, and Parolles, have most 
or many of these traits; and these descend to them, if not from the 
classics directly, from the Italian popular miles, Capitano Spa- 
vento.^ The English and Italian specimens differ from those of 
Plautus in that they are impecunious, the unwelcome parasites 
of tailor, barber, or landlady, not the patrons of parasites. 
Falstaff is both the one and the other.' Unlike most braggart 
captains, however, he is not silly and affected — those qualities were 
reserved for Pistol — ^but is a jester and a wit. It is this circumstance 
no doubt that has made critics, even of late, declare that the impres- 
sion of his character is quite different, and is therefore not that of a 
coward. But all the other traits save paunch and spindle-shanks 
are also the traits of famous clowns — Panurge, Sosie, Folengo's 
Cingar, Scarron's Jodelet — and even now a clown not a coward is 
a rarity on the stage. In that day of unanalytical but prodigally 
copious characterization, whereby on the stage, or, as in the case of 
Machiavelli, Luther, or Oldcastle himself, in popular tradition, a 

to substantiate the charge. "When did you see a black beard with a white liver," says 
Heywood, " or a little fellow without a tall stomach ?" 

Capitano Spavento has a paggio; Ralph Roister Doister, Dobinet Doughtie; Sir 
Tophas, Epiton; Don Armado, Moth. (Reich.). Generally, like Palstafl's, the page is 
pert and impudent. 

' Both features are in Pyrgopollnices. 

' Part II, II, ii, 118. ' Part I, II, iv, 11. 

< See Creizenach, IV, 350. For some details of the type I am indebted also to 
H. Graf, Miles Gloriosus (Rostock dissertation, 1892). 

'Other names: Spezzafer, Fracasso, Matamoros, Spezza-Monti, Giangurgolo, 
Vappo, Rogantino, etc.; Sand. 

• He has his landlady and tailor; has his gull Shallow as Quintiliaho has his Inno- 
centio and Giovanelli, and Bobadill has his Matthew; and yet he keeps Bardolph and 
perhaps Peto and Nym. 


Falstaff 81 

villain engrosses all criminal traits and a professional comic char- 
acter all vicious ones,' Falstaff (as clown) already a cheat, a liar, a 
boaster, a glutton, a lecher, and a thief, could hardly help being a 
coward as well. 

Much has been said about Falstaff being done from the life — 
even with George Peele or Henry Chettle for a model — but except 
in tone or in tricks of manner it is now evident that this could not 
be. The wholemanor the tithe of him never trod the earth. Much, 
too, has been said of the Capitano and the Matamore arising out 
of intestine turmoil in Italy and the Spanish invasion, of the miles 
gloriosus arising out of the Roman wars in Asia and Africa, and of the 
Alazon out of the Alexandrian conquests. Something similar has 
been said of the servus fallax of Roman comedy, but Sellar's remark 
fits not only this case but the others. "Though a wonderful con- 
ception of the humorous imagination, it is a character hardly com- 
patible with any social conditions."^ Nothing is so rare as realism 
— nothing in itself so hateful to the public or by name so dear. The 
braggart .captains', the valets who beat and bamboozle their masters, 
the nurses and chambermaids who scold them and thwart them in 
every wish, the women who put their husbands in bodily fear, and 
the timid and pure-minded maidens who upon provocation make 
love, and in men's clothing seek the beloved through field and forest 
in lands remote,' — all please only by their rarity or unreality, being 
incompatible with conditions under which women and servants 
knew no liberty, and a soldier stood or fell by his personal prowess 
alone. He sees deeper who finds that the marvelous exploits 

' See below, p. 104. Jodelet has been called: "insolent, lubrique, hSbleur, et pardes- 
sus tout poltron." Of the vices of Panurge Rabelais (II, chap. 16) gives a famous 
catalogue, including lewdness, cozening, drinking, roystering, and thieving, but for- 
getting the rest of them — boasting, cruelty, and cowardice. Cingar and Pulci's Margutte 
have a still more formidable array of merry sins. And the same lavish style appears in 
other characters of the old Italian popular comedy than the Capitano, as the Bucco of 
the atellans, who was "sufflsant, flatteur, fanfaron, voleur, lache"; and Pulcinella. who 
besides these qualities inherits those of the Maccus, " vif, spirituel. un peuferoce" (Sand, 
I, 126). Compare in the sixteenth century the popular mythopoeic characterization of 
Machiavelli among the northern nations, especially in the drama, and of Luther among 
the southern. 

'Poets of the Republic (Oxford, 1889), p. 170. 

* Those acquainted with the criticism of Shakespeare and Molifere will remember that 
both a free-spoken soubrette, Toinette or Dorine, and Rosalind, with her gallant curtle- 
axe upon her thigh, have been thought representative of their times. Yet for a century 
before in the novelle and comedies of Italy and Spain, where maidens were guarded 
jealously, they, too, go seeking their lovers in male attire. 



82 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

of Alexander provoked a boasting spirit of irony and satire in 
the Athenian public and playwrights.* Hence — directly out of 
the humorous imagination — ^these creations so extravagant and 

The braggart captain, indeed, is incompatible with himself. 
Cowards do not go to war, or, if driven to it, do not become captains. 
Or if even that is not beyond the compass of chance and their own 
contriving, the clever ones do not boast so extravagantly as to rob 
themselves of credence and engage themselves in undertakings which 
it is farthest from their wish to fulfil. The huge and delectable 
contrasts of the old comedy involve contradictions as huge, and 
the spectators blinked fact — ^if indeed they were not blind to it— 
in the throes of their laughter. After Gadshill a fellow so clever 
would neither have let his lies grow on his hands nor — except on 
the defensive — have undertaken to lie at all. But how tame for 
an Elizabethan, to whom what is "gross, open, palpable" was a 
delight! Bulthaupt seriously wonders why Falstaff went to war, 
and concludes that he went exalted through his humor above all 
fear,' and as we have seen, Morgann (and many a critic since) 
has thought it fine and brave of him, and has dwelt fondly on 
the Prince's preference of him to others Tor a charge of foot, on 
a dozen' bareheaded sweating captains knocking at taverns and 
asking everyone for Sir John Falstaff, or on Falstaff's leading* his 
men where they are peppered. He might as well wonder why a 
monster of a miser like Harpagon keeps a coach and horses, a cook 
and a troop of servants, and conclude that he must be generous and 
open-handed after all. It is on the stage — ^it is in a comedy — and 
he keeps his servants to stint them, and the horses to get up nights 
and steal away their oats.^ And Falstaff goes to the wars to say his 
catechism, brandish a bottle for a pistol, fall dead, joke, cheat, and 

■ O. Ribbeck, Alazon, pp. 32-34. 

' Dramalurgie, II, 74. He has reached a state of philosophic calm. "Er scheint 
seiner selbst so sicher dass er seine Ruhe Oder die Freiheit seiner Seele auch in der krit- 
ischsten Lage nicht zu verUeren fiirchtet." Bradley speaks of his having "risen superior 
to all serious motives." 

' A ballad-like exaggeration such as Shakespeare indulges himself in when it costs 
the company notliing. Like Capulet's "twenty cunning cooks" they "stay at door" — 
do not tread the stage. 

< Mr. Bradley comments on the fact that it is "led" not "sent." 

' A point made by Sarcey. 


Falstafp 83 

lie. In that day of prodigious contrasts and unchartered mirth a 
coward who does not rob on the highway or follow the wars — is 
no coward. To impute it to Falstaff's courage that he is in demand 
on the eve of war and goes to war without murmuring would mean 
that we must do the like to Parolles, who yearns for the wars in 
Italy and persuades his master to take him there; and to those 
"true-bred cowards" Ancient Pistol, Lieutenant Bardolph, and 
Corporal Nym, who, in the later play, follow the heroic young king 
into France. Falstaff goes to war to furnish matter for comedy, 
the Prince gives him a charge to get him to the war, and the dozen 
captains come sweating to fetch the laggard to his charge.' 

Two situations in which Falstaff is placed are connnected with 
the miles gloriosus traditionally. The coward taking a captive is 
an incongruous and mirth-provoking situation which Shakespeare 
repeats in Henry V when Pistol, who, according to the Boy, has 
not a tenth of even Nym's or Bardolph's valor, captures Monsieur 
le Fer; and it appears before that in the fine old French farce of 
Colin, fils de Thenot le Maire, where the hero, boasting of a prisoner, 
is afraid to fetch him in because of his iron-bound staff, though he 
turns out to be a German pilgrim, not a Turk. Even so, Colin, like 
Falstaff and Pistol, might well "thank thee for thee." In all of 
these instances, moreover, there must have been much comic " busi- 
ness" furnished by the actors to remind us that the captor is a 
coward.^ It is unthinkable that Pistol with his Frenchman should 
have been no fuimier at the Globe than he is in the text.' 

The other situation is that of the soldier who keeps his appetite, 

1 It matters not that the charge was given in Part I and that he was fetched in 
Part II. The situation is quite the same — on the eve of departure to the war. 

2 Morgann denies that Falstafl roared as he ran away because there is no stage 
direction, though the roaring is remarlied upon by both Poins and the Prince. He 
might have supplied it. See Creizenach. Englische ComBdianten, p. xcviii, for evidence, 
if that were necessary, that stage directions as we have them are very incomplete. So 
they are in printed plays today, and vastly they diminish in quantity as we go back 
through three centuries. At this point we should recall Viola pitted against Aguecheeli 
as we have seen them on the stage, or the more explicit text of L' Avantureux (1521). 
"lis reculent toujours pour prendre du champs et crient : A morti amortl" Ct. Henry 
V, II, i, Nym and Pistol. Colville, of course, is no coward, but is comically mistaken, 

' The more general situation of the coward fighting the coward, or a woman, is com- 
mon with the type: Falstaff fights Pistol and has a row with Quickly and her constables; 
Roister Doister is beaten by women; Thersites and Ambidexter fight with these and with 
snails and butterfiies; and Giangurgolo, the Calabrian, gets into a rage with poor inoffen- 
sive people and fights with eunuchs (Sand, I, 202). Cf. Graf, p. 35. 


84 Elmer Edgak Stoll 

though scared. Another contradiction, though to the ancients and 
the men of the Renaissance it betokened not coolness and presence 
of mind but a base and besotted nature, dead to name and fame.^ 
Falstaff sleeps and snores while the watch seek for him and has his 
bottle on the field, just as Sosie, after he has run and hidden in 
the tent, drinks wine and eats ham.^ And the putting of a bottle 
in his case for a pistol is a stranger contradiction still. According 
to our notions a coward would go armed to the teeth,^ but earlier 
art is prone to ignore analysis and present character in an outward 
and typical way.* Time and again in Renaissance drama the coward 
finds his sword rusted in,^ or, drawing it, can show but the half of a 
blade, or, like Basilisco, a painted lath. Capitano had a spider's 
web around his sheath, and Harlequin, like the Greek beardless 
satyr,^ Pulcinella, at times,' and the English Vice, wore as the symbol 
of his cowardice a wooden sword, not out of keeping with the rabbit 
scut' in his hat. M. Jusserand has remarked upon the use of signs 
and symbols in mediaeval drama and painting — God on the stage in 
the habiliments of pope or bishop, and St. Stephen painted with a 
stone, not on his crown, but in his hand, St. Lawrence toying with 
his gridiron, or Samson being shorn in the lap of Delilah with the 
ass's jawbone still in his hand! Even in Goldoni's Locandiera the 
chicken-hearted Marchese's sword is rusted in, and when out is no 

1 In "contempt of glory," says Hazlitt (ed. 1864, p. 190), determined, as always, to 
make him superior to circumstances. CI. his suggestion that FalstafE may have put the 
tavern-reckoning in his pocket "as a trick." And when he falls asleep, I suppose, he is 
feigning once more. On the contrary, his falling asleep may be no more than a device 
of the dramatist's to get his pocket picked without his knowing it. 

2 Amphitryon, I, 11. In PalstafE's case the wine may be there to bolster him up, or 
only to cool his thirst on a hot day. Cf. Part II, 1, 11, 235. 

a Sometimes, indeed, the Matamore was so represented. Cf. Sand, I, 197. This 
later realism appears in L' Avantureux, and in Jodelet DuelUste when the coward takes 
all unfair precautions by securing the most formidable weapons and wearing concealed 
a cuirass and a steel cap (II, vil). Falstaff himself seems to" appreciate the uses of a 
sword when he refuses to lend his to Hal, though this, again, may be no more than a 
device of the dramatist's to introduce the practical joke of the pistol. 

' Cf. the delight in discordant soimds attributed to the Malcontents Malevole and 

' T. Jordan, Pictures of Passions (1641), A Plundering Coward: "A heavylron sword, 
which fondly grows to the klnde scabbard." Cf. Mlddleton's Witch, v. 1. The coward 
Aberganes cannot draw, and does "not care to see it — 'tis only a hohday thing to wear at 
a man's side." 

^ Qrande Encyclopaedic, s.c. "Arlequin." 

' Sand, I, 132. ' Sand, I, 68. 



^ Falstaff 85 

more than a stump; and in this case, as in the others, the point is 
not that the character is afraid of cold steel, or "naked weapons," 
but that his martial profession is a burlesque and fraud. In the 
miles it is a touch in sympathy and keeping with the whole ex- 
travagant and external scheme. 

\v Further consideration of Falstaff 's cowardice depends on the 
"incomprehensible lies" of the buckram story and the problems 
which they involve. By most English critics they are thought to be 
no lies but mere "waggery" to amuse himself or the Prince;^ by some 
Germans they are considered to be a case of unconscious exaggera- 
tion.^ No one, so far as I know,' has suggested that Falstaff under- 
takes to deceive, and yet without intending a jest falls into the 
preposterous exaggerations and contradictions of a sailor or fisher- 
man spiiming a yarn. Still a scamp, he is no longer a wit. As for 
the intention to deceive, that in the light of what we have already 
said about the Elizabethan practical joke should, to any student of 
the period, be apparent. Poins's prediction is fulfilled to the letter — 
"how thirty at least he fought with; what wards, what blows, what 
extremities he endured" — and is further confirmed by the purposed 
fraud of his "monstrous devices." And as for the unconscious 
exaggerations and contradictions, he is like the Playboy of the 
Western World, who at first says that he riz the loy and let fall the 
edge on his father's skull; later says that he halved his skull; then 
that he split him to the knob of his gullet; then that with one blow 
he cleft him to the breeches belt.* Only, in Christy Mahon's case, 
the intervals between these exaggerations are so wide, the motivation 
provided in them by the admiration of his hearers and his own 
waxing enthusiasm so subtle and complete, that his reputation for 

' Morgaun, Hazlitt, Lloyd, Maginn, Wetz (p. 406) , Bradley (p. 264) , Professor 
Matthews (p. 129), though it does not seem like him. 

' Wolff, I, 426; but like most ot the Germans he refuses to entertain the notion that 
Falstaff also meant to deceive. BiUthaupt (II, 72-73), troubled with the inconsistency 
of the character, seems to take the middle course of having Falstaff half in earnest, half 
in jest. 

! Gervinus (Lon., 1863, i, pp. 452, 453) and Wolff (I, 425) seem to approach it, but 
probably mean no more than "witty myself and the cause that wit is in other men" 
(Part II, I, ii, 11). And by that Falstaff means only that he furnishes others matter 
for mirth by his personal appearance. 

< Such a comparison is not illegitimate. Synge abounds in old farcical material, 
dating back to the fabliaux, though, as here, treated with modern delicacy. 


86 Elmer Edgab Stoll 

intelligence hardly suffers. Falstaff piles up his exaggerations pell- 
mell, despite the interrupting jeers of the Prince and Poins, and 
turns at once from wit to butt. 

Here lies an incongruity' greater than any we have met, and to 
understand it we must look about us, as the commentator does when 
he is puzzled by a phrase of the text in contemporary drama. The 
situation is the same as that in Heywood's Fair Maid cited above. 
The only difference is that between great art and small; for in the 
same period a great popular artist and a mediocre one use the same 
means of expression — "business," situations, and types. That is to 
say, the difference is in the touch. In both cases before us there is the 
cowardly action deliberately misrepresented in the report by means 
of gross exaggerations and contradictions,^ satirically noticed by the 
hearer but without effect upon the speaker. Roughman is not witty, 
to be sure, nor, once started, does he let his numbers grow. But, 
like Falstaff not a fool, he too makes a fool of himself with his story. 

That Falstaff the wit should thus turn into a butt involves a 
lack of unity and consistency in the portrayal which in higher art 
is nowadays impossible but was then not rare. He was the comic 
character — men asked no more. Contradictions enough we have 
foxmd already in the miles. According to Reich,' moreover, the 
Hindoo Vidusaka, the Roman scurra, and the Greek yiKuroiroibs 
were often not only wits who jested at others' and their own expense, 
but like the court fool were the butts of others' jokes, practical and 
verbal. And the same may be said of the Elizabethan stage fools 
and clowns.* With some of his Shakespeare goes as far as with 
Falstaff, though turning the character not so much into a butt as 
into a buffoon. 

Launce, for instance, is quick and expert at jest and repartee, 
punning and word-splitting, gets the better of Speed and others who 

> Bulthaupt has felt it, and stated It more clearly and fully than anyone else, but he 
undertakes no explanation. — Dramaturgie, II, 72-73. 

2 Morgann (p. 138) makes much of the circumstance that Falstafl's braggadocios 
are after the fact, not before it. But this is the case with a number of cowards. Ruz- 
zante in Beolco's First Dialogue, getting up from the ground, brags about what he would 
have done if his rival had been there alone instead of "one of a hundred": Swash, in 
Day's Blind Beggar of Bednall Green, echoing Falstaff, declares, "I very manfully killed 
seven of the six," though the rest carried away the money; Robin in Adam de la Halle's 
Jeu de Robin et Marion; Protaldy in Thierry and Theodoret, II, Iv. 

« Mimus, pp. 24, 736, 866, etc. « Eckhardt, p. 255. 


Falstaff 87 

are pitted against him, and sees through his master's perfidy when 
others fail. Yet at times he confounds* words in the style of Mala- 
prop and Partington, "misplaces" and talks contradictory nonsense 
like the Shakespearean constables,^ craftily withholds information 
one moment and unconsciously blabs it out the next,' and, like Sosie,^ 
when he undertakes to tell of his parting with dramatic directness 
and exactitude gets his tale hopelessly tangled and muddled. 
Similarly in Measure for Measure Pompey Bum has to his credit 
some of the shrewdest sayings in the play,' and yet confuses words 
like respect and suspect, suppose and depose, instant and distant, 
and, like Dogberry, wanders and flounders in his story of Mistress 
Elbow and Master Froth without the wit to suspect it. "Why 
very well," he cries delighted, "I hope here be truths!" These 
and other clowns Professor Eckhardt, also bent upon unity, has 
been under the necessity of interpreting as stupid intentionally, 
laughing, like the canonical Falstaff, in their sleeves.^ Of this there 
are instances, no doubt; but on the Elizabethan stage, as we have 
seen, feigning is, as it begins, explicitly indicated, or else is manifest 
from the situation and the sudden change of tone; and without 
such warrant it seems iinscientific to have recourse to this method 
of obviating a contradiction or harmonizing a discord.'' As Professor 
Eckhardt himself has remarked and perhaps everybody has noticed, 
in many Elizabethan plays all the comic characters are witty, and of 
those classes into which Professor Eckhardt has ranged all the pro- 
fessional clowns and jesters of Elizabethan drama, by far the largest 
are those who are only "prevailingly" wits and jesters and those who 
are only "prevailingly" clowns and dolts. As in Harlequin* and 
the " patch " in the circus-ring, wit mixed with stupidity is the quicker 
to tickle the public taste. Nor does the one blend with or leaven 
the other. Launce and Pompey are both wits and clowns. 

1 Two Gentlemen of Verona, II, iii, 4, etc. 

' II, iii, 11 and 13 (cf. Meaeure for Measure, II, i, 90). Ct. Elbow, Dogberry, Verges, 

» III, i, 265. * Amphitryon, I, i. 

«I, il; II. i, 234 ff. 

• Eckhardt, pp. 255, 411. From this exhaustive worlj most of the facts used In this 
paragraph are derived. 

' Cf. below, another instance — and another method — with Polonius. 

» " Un mSlange d'ignorance, de naSvetS, d'esprit, de bStise, et de grace" (Sand, I, 76) . 


88 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

Such is Falstaff; nor is this naivete missing at other times, as 
in his remorse. In the first scene in which he appears Falstaff 
falters in his jollity and vows that he will give over this life, being 
now little better than one of the wicked. "Where shall we take a 
purse tomorrow. Jack?" "Zounds!" he shouts, "where thou wilt, 
lad ! " On a blue Monday at the Boar's Head he is for repenting once 
more as he moodily contemplates his wasting figure. Bardolph com- 
plains of his fretfulness. "Why, there is it. Come sing me a bawdy 
song; make me merry!" If in this he be self-conscious, how annoy- 
ing and unnatural ! Those numerous critics who to keep for Falstaff 
his reputation as a humorist have him here play a part, seem to do 
so at the expense of their own. It is not to be wondered at in Hegel 
and some few German critics' that, with philosophy in their every 
thought, they should shake their heads at the unenlightenment of 
Aristophanes, and turning their backs on Shakespeare, Cervantes, 
and Moliere should proclaim the highest species of humor to be inten- 
tional and conscious; but it is to be wondered at in Englishmen. 
What joke could be made of this equal to the unconscious comical 
effect of the old sensualist plunged in penitence, and spontaneously 
buoyed up again, as by a specific levity? "Peace, good Doll" — 
and here, too, he is not jesting but saying it with a shudder — "do 
not speak like a death's head; do not bid me remember mine end." 
The pith of the humor lies in the huge appetite for purses, or mirth, 
bursting in an instant the bonds of his penitence; just as it lies in 
his thirst swallowing up the memory that his lips are not yet dry. 
"Give me a cup of sack! I am a rogue if I drunk to-day!"- He is 
as unconscious as inconsistency has been on the comic stage ever 
since — as Moliere's philosopher who declaims against wrath and 
presently gives way to it, or the duennas of Steele and Sheridan, 
who deprecate love and marriage for their nieces at the moment 
when they seek it for themselves. 

Naive, then, as well as witty, and quite as much the cause of mirth 
in other men when he is least aware, Falstaff is less " incomprehen- 

1 Ulrici, etc.. but not Gsrvlnus; cf. Wetz, pp. 402-3; Hegel (cited by Wetz), AMetik. 
Ill, 576. 

'Such instances Wetz (p. 406). under the influence of Lloyd, considers intentional 
jokes, despite his insistence on Palstafl's naUetc. Bradley and other English critics 


Falstaff 89 

sible" both in his lies and, as we shall presently see, in his conduct 
generally. His wit is expended, not in making himself ridiculous for 
the sake of a joke unshared and unuttered, but, by hook or by crook, 
in avoiding that. Dryden long ago remarked as his special accom- 
plishments his shifts and quick evasions; and Jonson, his "easy scapes 
and sallies of levity." "His wit lies in those things he says praeter 
expedatum, unexpected by the audience; his quick evasions when you 
imagine him surprised, which, as they are extremely diverting of them- 
selves, so receive a great addition from his person."' Morgann, Lloyd,'' 
Maginn,' and even Mr. Bradley^ find this all too simple, and, wrench- 
ing both plot^ and character in the process, have him lie in no expec- 
tation of being believed, step into traps for the fun of wriggling out, 
and bid for gibes at his own expense. Losing is as good as winning, 
and Falstaff is out for exercise and his health ! But from Aristoph- 
anes and Plautus down through the Renaissance to the present- 
day Eloquent Dempsey of Mr. William Boyle there is a continual 
succession of characters who are well content to use their wits as 
they may to keep from smarting for their follies. Particularly is this 
the case with cowards and braggarts, with Panurge,^ Capitano Spa- 
vento, and the various Elizabethan specimens of the Captain — 

1 Dramatic Poesy, p. 43, 

t Essays (1875), p, 223; as when he says "When thou wilt, lad," etc., or "I'm a 
rogue," etc. 

' P. 51 : "It was no matter whether he invented what tended to laughter or whether 
it was invented upon him." It is true that he is not resentful or sulky, but what clown is ? 

* Oxford Lectures, pp. 264-65. In treating Falstaff's mendacity Mr. Bradley fails 
to observe distinctions which, as it seems to me, are required by the exigencies of dramatic 
teclmique and wiiich then would have been observed by an audience instinctively. 
Falstatl's braggadocios and his vowing himself a rogue if he had drunk today, are, though 
lies, very diflerent in spirit and purpose from the shifts and evasions by which, like Aris- 
totle bslow, he turns all to merriment and half saves the day. Still another sort of lie 
is that which serves no practical purpose — -offends no idealistic scruples — his jest about 
his corpulence being due to sighing and grief and his voice being cracked by singing of 
anthems. But Mr. Bradley rhetorically asks those who think that Falstaff expected 
to be believed in his buckram story whether he expected to be believed in these other 
cases as well. To make Falstaff, if a whole-hearted liar in one case, a whole-hearted 
liar in all, is like making lago a liar even in soUloquy. 

"I suppose they consider that Falstaff was in earnest," he continues, "when, want- 
ing to get twenty-two yards of satin on trust, he offered Bardolph as security." That 
is not a lie at all — is a case in no sense parallel to the others; but certainly he was as 
much in earnest as when he cheated Quickly and Shallow. He afterward makes it plain 
that he had expected to get the satin (Part II, I, ii, 48-50). " Or even when he sold his 
soul on Good Friday to the devil for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg." And 
that Falstaff never says, but the jeering and jesting Poins. 

' See below, p. 90. 

' Book IV, chap. 67, where he blames for his condition the famous cat Rodilardus. 


90 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

ParoUes,^ Bobadill, Bessus, Braggadino, and Sir Tophas. After 
saving their bacon their dearest desire is to save their face. Even 
those romancing liars whose cowardice is not in grain, Peer Gynt 
and Christy Mahon, are far from courting failure and discredit. 
y^ Some of the most famous of Falstaff's shifts are in other plays 
actually duplicated. In Look about You, printed in 1600, Faucon- 
bridge, having in ignorance of her presence spoken slightingly of 
his wife, avails himself of the evasion to which, when it is suggested, 
Falstaff scorns to resort for a second time, having still another at 


/ knew thee, Moll; now by my sword I knew thee; 
I winked at all; I laughed at every jest. — Sc. 28. 

And like Falstaff he is laughed at for it more than his jest. In 
Middleton's Family of Love it is the woman that is caught, and 
she knew thee as well as the child knows his own father — "I 
knew him to be my husband even by very instinct." So in Cicog- 
nini's Don Juan, Passarino, still more cowardly than his equivalent 
Leporello or Sganarelle, when surprised in a soliloquy far from loyal 
to his master, cries in panic, "Faith, I saw you coming and I was 
only joking."^ Beaumont's Bessus, again, when taken to task 
declares that "Bessus the coward wronged you, and shall Bessus 
the valiant maintain what Bessus the coward did?" And to a 
man who beats him he confesses that he "shall think him a valiant 
fellow for all this." For the three English sayings this is the model: 

Why thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules; but beware instinct; 
the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was 
now a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself and thee 
during my life: I for a vaUant lion, and thou for a true prince. 

Thus before or after him, some of Falstaff's shifts, like his "monstrous 
devices" and his lazzi on the battlefield, were the recognized prop- 
erty of a double-dealer and poltroon. 

If Falstaff steps into the trap on purpose and is, as Mr. Bradley 
says, aware that his slanders upon the Prince will be repeated to him, 
and, as most Englishmen say, went to Gadshill only for a lark, and, 
as Lloyd and Maginn suspect, actually knew the Prince and Poins, 

' All's Well, I, i, 215, and see above. 

' II Convitato di Pietra, sc. 28: "A v'haveva vist alia {6, e per quest a burlava cosi." 


Falstaff 91 

ran and roared to hold the good jest up, and hacked his sword and 
bloodied his own and his companions' clothing on the certain calcu- 
lation that he should be betrayed/ little enough would depend 
on his evasions. Actually, as with all stage cowards, here lies the 
center of interest.^ The Prince and Poins press him hard: 

Prince: What trick, what device, what starting-hole canst thou now 
find out to hide thee from this open and apparent shame ? 

Poins: Come, let's hear. Jack; what trick hast thou now? — Part I, 
II, iv, 293. 

Prince: I shall drive you to confess the wilful abuse, and then I know 
how to handle you. 

Poins: Answer, thou dead elm, answer. — Part II, II, iv, 338. 

At times his embarrassment is as manifest as their glee, and he 
turns from bluster to coaxing and wheedling: 

Falstaff: No abuse, Hal. 
Poins: No abuse ? 

FaL: No abuse, Ned, i' the world; honest Ned, none.' — Part II, II, 
iv, 290-94. 

In his wit lies the only difference between his evasions and those 
of Bessus, Bobadill, or Jodelet. Theirs, comical often without humor 
like those of Bacchus and Xanthias in the Frogs, are mere excuses 
and do not save them;* Falstaff 's are as unplausible and far-fetched 
as theirs, but, as Poins forbodes, they deliberately "drive the Prince 
out of his revenge and turn all to a merriment." They are laughed 
at, but often they turn the laugh. They are jests for profit, as Burck- 
hardt^ would no doubt have called them, for profit and delight, and 
little akin to that pale species reared by philosophy and philanthropy, 
which craves no hearing but, like virtue, is its own reward. They are 
such jests as those of Shakespeare's clowns or fools when they beg or 
are threatened, those of Sancho Panza and Panurge, Eulenspiegel and 

' Quoted freely from Lloyd, p. 224; Maginn, pp. 47, 51. 

' As for the Capitano, see Herman Grimm, Essays (1859), p. 165; for other braggart 
cowards see Petit de JuUeville, Histoire du Thcdtre: La Comedie, p. 258. 

« Cf. a similar passage. Part I, II, iv, 260-64. 

* Every Man in His Humour^ IV, V, "Sure. I was Struck with a planet thence"; 
IV, vii, "I was fascinated, by Jupiter" (so Ruzzante suffers from enchantment); A 
King and No King, III, 11; Jodelet Mattre-Valet, IV, vii, "Quell c'est votre ueveu? 
Je ne me bats pas!" etc. 

6 Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (1890), p. 157. 


92 Elmeh Edgar Stoll 

Kalenberg, or those in the old fabliaux. In one of these last, indeed, 
the celebrated Lai d'Aristote of d'Andeli, there is an evasion, remark- 
ably like some of Falstaff's, of which the purpose and effect are 
specifically indicated. We remember: "Thou knowest that in the 
state of innocency Adam fell; and what should poor Jack Falstaff do 
in the days of villainy ? Thou seest I have more flesh than another 
man," etc. Again we remember : " I dispraised him before the wicked 
that the wicked might not fall in love with him; in which doing, I 
have done the part of a careful friend and a true subject," etc. In 
the same spirit Aristotle when, having rebuked Alexander for giving 
way to carnal pleasures, he is discovered as he goes bridled and sad- 
dled and ridden by the vindictive damsel through the garden, cries 
to his jeering sovereign: 

Sire, fait-il, vos dites voir! 
Mais or po6s vos bien savoir: 
J'oi droit que je doutai de vos. 
Car en fin j event ardfe tos 
Et en fu droite jouenece, 
Quant jo qui sui plains de vieUece 
Ne puis centre amor rendre estal 
Qu'ele ne m'ait tom6 a mal 
Li grant com vos av6s v6u. 
Quant que j'ai apris et 16u 
M'a desfait nature en i eure 
Qui tote science deveure 
Pus qu'ele s'en veut entremetre; 
Et se jo voil dont paine metre 
A vos oster de sa prison, .... 

So he too turns all to merriment. Alexander congratulates the 
damsel on the revenge she had furnished them, but 

tant s'en fu bien escusfe 
De ce que il fu amuses 
Qu'en riant li rois h pardonne. 

So Falstaff seeks neither to "amuse the Prince" nor to excuse him- 
self, but does both together as the better way of reaching either end. 
All this reasoning is founded, I hope, on what is simple and 
sensuous, and therefore truly of the stage. The fatal objection to 
the theory that Falstaff is feigning and literally "looking for trouble" 


Falstaff 93 

is that he keeps his joke to himself. There are no such jokes on the 
stage. At least it must have got into a soliloquy — ^in Shakespeare's 
time it must needs have been thrust upon the notice of the Prince 
and Poins and have covered them with confusion. In Shakespeare 
the battle is to the strong, success never looks like failure, or honor 
like dishonor, and for him and his audience it is not a humorous 
thing to keep one's humor hid. Perhaps there was never a more 
amazing transformation in the history of criticism than this of 
our fat knight into a sort of Andrea del Sarto, — 

I, jesting from myself and to myself, 

Know what I do — am not moved by men's blame 

Or their praise either. 

Now this principle of a looser unity, wjiieh-is-ihejuaiiL thread we 
have been tracing — of identity in the^dramatic functioii and tone, 
rather than in mental quality and pnK;ess5g=^^expIains much else in 
Falstaff. The quickness and readiness with which he faces about, 
which prompts Bulthaupt to think that in his boasting he is not 
sincere, is due simply to the fact that here he is wit again, not 
buffoon. It is required of him to be entertaining rather than 
plausible. And this explains his so-called presence of mind, his 
joking amid carnage and in the teeth of death. It is not that he 
is a Mercutio, game to the last, but that he jokes regardless of psycho- 
logical propriety, as Elizabethan clowns do whether in battle or in 
the house of mourning, or as Sosia does, trembling before Mercury,^ 
or the gracioso Guarin does, in Calderon's Puente de Mantible,^ 
though much frightened, with the giant, or the cowardly Polidoro, 
in El Mayor Monstruo, though threatened with immediate hanging. 

Looser unity, moreover, irrelevancy, or carelessness of detail — 
it matters not which, for probably Shakespeare seldom conceived 
his characters apart from the plot — explains quite as well as the 
tradition of the miles the fact that in other ways Falstaff ceases for 
moments to be a coward. His fighting with Pistol, from which Mr. 
Bradley says a stock coward would have shrunk, and his capturing 
Colville and exchanging a blow or two with Hal and Poins on Gads- 
hill are like the conduct of the gracioso Brito in Calderon's Principe 

» Amphitryon of Plautus and oX Moliere, sc. 1. = II, x and xi. 


94 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

Constante,^ who, after falling and feigning death like FalstafT, starts 
up and secures a fresh comic effect by chasing off the stage the two 
Moors who come to rob his body; or of Ambidexter, in Cambyses, 
who beats Huf, Ruf, and Snuf before he himself is beaten by the 
women; or of Sganarelle, who, after his pigeon-livered soliloquy 
cited below, appears, crying out upon his enemy, in full armor — to 
keep off the rain! or of Panurge and Cingar, who, though cowards, 
having many vices besides, exhibit them, as Falstaff does his thievish- 
ness and his bibulousness on the battlefield, as if their cowardice 
were quite forgotten. Though "of blows he was naturally fearful," 
in the campaign against the Dipsodes Panurge is as bold as brass and 
as cool as a cucumber.^ And Pulcinella, we have seen, is both 
Idche and feroce. 

Elsewhere as well Shakespeare does not keep strictly to his 
scheme. Shylock is conceived in prejudice, doomed to ridicule and 
dishonor, yet is given now and then a touch of incompatible tender- 
ness.' Polonius is sensible enough at first, yet in the second act he 
is indeed an "ass."^ And as for the "indecorum" of Falstaff's 
presence unabashed and unreproved before the King at Shrewsbury, 
of which Morgann and his followers complain (unless indeed it be 
granted them as an intentional compliment to his valor, or evidence 
of his being an established courtier and "counsellor of state"),* 
why in Elizabethan drama are fools' and clowns forever elbowing 
kings or emperors without a ghost of a pretext or excuse ? To 
jest, and Falstaff jests. "Peace, chewet, peace!" cries the Prince 
to our "counsellor" once really, according to Elizabethan notions, 

1 1, xlv and xx. 

' In Book II, chaps. 27, 29, he gives a cry of pleasure at the approaching conflict, 
and he creeps among the fallen and cuts their throats. Yet see at the close of chap. 21 
his fright when blows are threatened; (IV, chap. 5) when Dingdong draws his sword; 
(IV, chaps. 19, 23, 24) when there is a storm at sea; (chaps. 66, 67) when there is can- 

'See my article "Shylock" (cited above), p. 276. 

* See Mr. A. B. Walkley, op. cit. Urged by the craving for unity, as usual, critics 
have found the wisdom of Polonius in I, iii, jejune and insipid. So is the Duke's, then, 
in Measure for Measure, III, i, and that of many another moralist in Shakespeare. And 
even if jejune and insipid, "hard and unvital," it is not silly, not asinine, and the char- 
acter is not much more of a unit than before. Coleridge, urged by the same craving, 
finds him too wise to be meant for a comic character! 

« Morgann, pp. 43-44. 

« In this case, of course, there is often the reason that they belong to the household. 


Falstaff 95 

the decorum is broken. About as much is to be made of Falstaff's 
presence in the council as of his "familiarity" with John of Gaunt 
and Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Once upon a time he joked with 
the one, and in his youth he was page to the other. In Elizabethan 
drama anybody jokes with a king and a king jokes with anybody, 
and Falstaff wins little credit with us for once having tried it with 
John of Gaunt in the Tiltyard. What does it matter, moreover, 
whether, as Morgann and Magiim will have it, he is a gentleman ? 
So is Panurge,' and a coward, and "a very dissolute and debauched 
fellow if there were any in Paris." The pith and root of the matter 
is that criticism has no right thus to insist upon details and follow 
them up further — his seal ring worth forty mark, his bonds, and his 
pension'' (if ever he had them) as tokens of respectability — for in the 
treatment of these Shakespeare and his fellows were even more self- 
contradictory and unplausible than we have already seen him to be in 
matters of capital importance. Sancho rides his stolen ass again 
before he has recovered her, and Comus, as he welcomes "midnight 
shout and revelry" and "the secret flames of midnight torches," now 
finds the star "that bids the shepherd fold" at the top of heaven.' 
What then could be expected of one who was not writing for print ? 
So far nothing has been said of the Merry Wives of Windsor because 
of the prevalent opinion that this Falstaff is another man. Here he 
is a butt and no mistake. But Mr. Bradley himself says that there 
are speeches in the play recognizable as Falstaff's in quantity suffi- 
cient to fill one side of a sheet of note-paper. Moreover, the figure 
of the braggart captain who came into Shakespeare's hands from 
Plautus or from the Comedy of Masks would have been incomplete 
if he had not appeared as the suitor gulled.* Yet all that I care to 
insist upon is that in this play as in Henry IV the supreme comical 
figure is again both butt and wit. Again for purposes of mirth he 
fails to see through the tricks played upon him, and yet, though 

' Book II, chap. 9: "Natiire hath extracted him from some rich and noble race." 

" Morgann, p. 59. The pension, of course, he is only expecting — or says he is 

' I am aware that "top" has been made to mean not top but "fairly high up" in 
the heavens ; which shows how much more precious in the eyes of a commentator is con- 
sistency than the gift of expression. There is no meaning to the phrase unless it be that 
time has passed and the star in the western sky is now higher than it was. 

< This is the lot of both Pyrgopolinices and the Capitano. 

227 . 

96 Elmer Edgab Stoll 

he is clever enough, surely nobody will have him feigning and dis- 
sembling, or trying to "amuse" himself or the women of Windsor 
by chivalrously falling in with their vindictive schemes. 

A coward, then, if ever there was one, has Falstaff a philosophy ? 
Military freethinking has been attributed to him to lift the stigma 
on his name. Believing not in honor, he is not bound by it. And 
by the Germans* and Mr. Bradley, as we have remarked, the scope 
of his philosophy has been widened, and he has been turned into a 
practical Pyrrhonist and moral nihilist, to whom virtue is "a fig," 
truth absurd, and all the obligations of society stumbling-blocks 
and nuisances. In various ways, by the English and the Germans 
alike, he has been thought to deny and destroy all moral values 
and ideals of life, not only for his own but for our behoof. So in a 
certain sense he is inspired by principle — of an anarchistic sort — not 
void of it. 

Only at one ideal — honor — does Falstaff seem to me to cavil, 
and that he is only shirking and dodging. How does he, as Mr. 
Bradley thinks, make truth absurd by lying; or law, by evading 
the attacks of its highest representative; or patriotism, by abusing 
the King's press and filling his pockets with bribes P Or matrimony 
(logic would not forbear to add) by consorting with Mistresses Ursula, 
Quickly, and Tearsheet, thus lifting us into an atmosphere of freedom 
indeed ? It fairly makes your head turn to see a simple picaresque 
narrative like that of Panurge or Sir Toby Belch brought to such 
an upshot as that. 

As it seems to me, his catechism on the battlefield and his deliver- 
ances on honor' are to be taken not as coming from his heart of hearts 
but from his wits and to cover his shame. ^ Like disreputable char- 
acters in mediaeval and Renaissance drama and fiction without 
number, he unconsciously gives himself away. His "philosophy" is 
but a shift and evasion, and in his catechism he eludes the claim of 
honor when put by his conscience just as he does when put by the 

■ In various degrees by Ulrici, Gervinus, Rotscher, Vischer, Graf, and Bulthaupt. 
The only one who explicitly dissents is Wetz. Wolfl (I, 422), though he finds in Falstaff 
no depths of philosophy, does not look upon the ' ' catechism " as a confession of cowardice. 

2 Ox/ord Lectures, pp. 262-63. 

2 Part I, V, i, 127-43; iii, 61-65; iv, 110-30. 

« Cf. Wetz. 


Falstaff 97 

Prince and Poins. When he declares discretion to be the better 
part of valor there is no more philosophy in him than in Panurge 
and the Franc Archier de Baignollet when they avow that they fear 
nothing but danger, or than in himself when he swears that instinct 
is a great matter, and purse-taking no sin but his vocation. When 
he cries "Give me life" and "I like not the grinning honor that Sir 
Walter hath," there is no more Pyrrhonism or Epicureanism in him 
than there is idealism when, in defending his choice of the unlikeliest 
men for his company, he cries, "Give me the spirit, Master Shallow," 
meaning, "give me the crowns and shillings, Mouldy and BuUcalf." 
Here as there, he only dodges and shuffles. As in his fits of remorse 
we have seen, he is not "dead to morality" or free from its claims; 
neither does he frankly oppose them, or succeed in "covering them 
with immortal ridicule" ; but in sophistry he takes refuge from them 
and the ridicule rebounds on his own head. 

Half a dozen egregious cowards in Shakespeare's time, at any 
rate, talk in Falstaff's vein when in danger, and yet are not, and 
cannot be, thought philosophers for their pains. The coward and 
braggart Basilisco, with whom Shakespeare was acquainted, goes 
through a catechism before action, too, on the power of death and 
the futility of love and honor in the face of it.' What is at the back 
of his mind a child could see. The nearest other parallels are inde- 
pendent of Shakespeare, but are fashioned by the same ironical and 
satiric spirit. In Moliere's Cocu imaginaire, Sganarelle subtilizes 
on death and a husband's honor much as Falstaff does on death and 
a soldier's honor. Discretion is his pet virtue too. 

Je ne suis point battant, de peur d'etre battu, 
Et I'humeur d^bonnaire est ma grands vertu; 

and if in this faith he should waver, once play the bold fellow, and 
get for his virtue a villainous thrust in the paunch — 

Que par la ville ira le bruit de mon tr6pas, 
Dites-moi, mon honaeur, en serez vous plus gras ? 

"Give me life," once more, not grinning honor— 

Qu'il vaut mieux 6tre encor cocu que tr^pass^; 

' Soliman and Perseda, V, iii, 63-95. The parallel being well known, I do not dwell 
on it. Shakespeare's acquaintance with the play is proved by King John, I, i, 244. 


98 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

and therefore he considers whether loss of honor can damage the 
limbs as Falstaff considers whether the winning of honor will mend 


Quel mal cela fait-il? la jambe en devient-elle 
Plus tortus, apres tout, et la taille moins belle ? 

Before the scene is over he confesses his cowardice explicitly and in 
scene xxi, as we have noticed, it becomes apparent in deed. 

Another arrant coward, also self-confessed, Jodelet in Scarron's 
Jodelet Duelliste (1646),' inveighs against honor as a silly thing, 
causing much inconvenience, and considers the damage done because 
of it to various parts of the body, through the least puncture in which 
the spirit may escape — through puncture in heart, liver, kidney, 
lungs, or an artery — gods! the very thought takes his breath! 
And he "likes not" death because it is stupid,^ and too "forward" 
with a fellow, 

Et sans consid^rer qui la veut ou refuse, 
L'indiscrfete qu'elle est, grippe, vouslt ou non, 
Pauvre, riche, poltron, vaiUant, mauvais et bon (V, i) . 

So in the earlier play, Jodelet Mattre-Valet, when he considers: 

Que le corps enfin doit pourrir, 

Le corps humain, ou la prudence 

Et I'homieur font leur residence, 

Je m 'afHige jusqu' au mourir. 

Quoi! cinq doigts mis sur une face! (IV, ii). 

For, as in the later play, he has had his ears boxed, and the better 
part is discretion. 

Thus continually in the popular farces of the fifteenth and six- 
teenth centuries cowardice coquets with prudence, discretion, or phil- 
anthropy, but in thrusting back the claims of honor only betrays, as 
in Falstaff, terror at what comes in its trail. It gives itself away 
by an irony which recoils like a boomerang. Falstaff's discretion, 
Moron's "bon sens," ParoUes' "for advantage,"' and even humaner 

1 Cited in Despois, Uoliire, t. II, 198-200, where also is cited the parallel of Falstaff's 
catechism. Cf . also M. de Pourceaugnac (IH. ii) , who disclaims the fear of death as he 
flees from the law in the garb of a woman, but thinks it "facheux a un geutilhomme 
d'Stre pendu." 


> All's Well. I. ii, 215. 


Falstaff 99 

sentiments are the subterfuges of cowards on the popular stage in 
Venice and Niirnberg as in London and Paris. In the old farce 
L'Avantureux, Guillot has fled from Marolles but retired at his ease 
as far as — to Pontoise! — for a soldier who is quick to strike 

Se doibt bien tenir loin. 
Jamais je n'eus intention 
De faire homicidation.^ 

Likewise the Franc Archier de Baignollet retreats (for to him as to 
Sancho retreating is not fleeing) only a trifle, from Angers to Lyons. 
And Ruzzante in Beolco's First Dialogue is even of the opinion, 
born of immediate experience, that to run and hide takes a lot of 
courage.* Possibly the closest parallel to Falstaff's gammon about 
honor appears in a fifteenth century Fastnachtspiel, in which the 
faint-hearted knights excuse themselves from following the Emperor 
into battle. The Second Knight says: 

Scholt ich mich da geben zu sterben, 
Das ich da mit solt er erwerben, 
Was mocht mir die er gefrumen 
Warm ich nit mocht her wider kumen ? 
Wami ich hab selbs daheim er and gut 
Und ain schons weib, das gibt mir mut.' 

Somewhat like are the others, and the Fourth Knight stipulates 
that he shall be permitted to ride to the charge behind the Emperor, 
because to ride before does not beseem him, and 

ich will eben zu sehen 
Von wem each schaden sei geschehen. 

On both Emperor and Ausschreier all this makes but one impression 
— and at the end they say as much — that of cowardice unalloyed. 
Somewhat the same are the sentiments of Panurge, and the ironical 
method is more obvious in him than in any: 

Let's whip it away, I never find myself to have a bit of Courage at Sea: 
In Cellars and elsewhere I have more than enough: Let's fly, and save our 
Bacon. I do not say this for any Fear that I have; for I dread nothing 

■ Ibid., U. 130-40. The same sentiment is a pretext of Ruzzante (cited below) to 
explain why he brings no booty home from war. 

2 (Tenezia, 1565) 1. 5: "le un gran cuore chi se mette muzzare." 
'Keller (1853), No. 7S. 


100 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

but Danger, that I don't: I always say it, that shouldn't We'll 

lose no Honour by flying; Demosthenes saith, That the man that runs 
away may fight another time. — IV, chap. 55 (cf. chap. 23). 

All these cowardly characters have a burlesque "philosophy" 
comparable to Falsta£f's, which in their case cannot extenuate the 
shame and therefore should not in his. Like Falstaff they but 
make of it a veil of dissimulation, and drolly peep from behind it. 
Here lingers mediaeval satire as we find it in capital form in the 
Wife of Bath's Prologue, or in the old farce of the widow who hears, 
as the bells toll for her husband's death, the heavenly admonition 

Pren ton valet, pren ton valet;' 

and as people were clever enough to take that for nothing but the 
unconscious confession of a lascivious spirit, so they took Falstaff's 
and these other fellows' discretion and prudence and aversion to 
grinning honor and stupid death, not by any means for what to our 
eager sympathy they seem to be. That in all its transparency this 
satiric and ironical understatement is not foreign to Shakespeare's 
method with Falstaff in general appears not only in many of his 
evasions, as we have seen, but in his famous talk with Bardolph, 
alluded to above: 

— ^virtuous enough, swore little, diced not above seven times a week, went 
to a bawdy-house not above once in a quarter — of an hour, paid money 
that I borrowed three or four times. 

And as elsewhere it is used in Shakespeare, in Shylock's outcries — 

I would my daughter were dead at my foot — ^and the jewels in her ear. 
Would she were hearsed at my foot— and the ducats in her cofiin . . . .* 

and used by Moliere or by Sheridan, or by so recent a dramatist 
as Robertson, the humor, like that involved in Falstafif's "incompre- 
hensible lies" and his remorse, seems meant to be unconscious, not 

1 Robinet Badin. Le Roux de Lincy, t. Ill, 142. 

2 See my article, "Shylock," p. 274. This punctuation is mine. 

s Malade imaginaire, I, ix, near end, BSline's similar after-thoughts; School /or 
Scandal, IV, lil, "who never in my life denied him — my advice"; Rivals, V, iii, "He 
generally liills a man a weelc, don't you Bob? Acres: Ay — at homel"; Caste, III, i, 
239, Eccles: "Nothing Uke work — ^tor the young," etc. 


Falstaff 101 

One reason why in Falstaff we fail to penetrate this mask of 
unrealistic and malicious portrayal, and take his words to heart, 
is that they are in soliloquy. A man does not banter himself. But 
on the stage in those times and before them a man did, and all 
soliloquy is phrased more as if the character were addressing himself 
or the audience than as if he were thinking aloud. Hence in comic 
soliloquy' allowances are to be made, just as later, when Falstaff 
holds forth on sack as the cause of valor, which is another under- 
hand confession of cowardice, and when Benedick declares that the 
world must be peopled, which is a confession of a tenderer sort.^ 
It is an irony which touches the speaker, not the thing spoken of, 
and dissolves away not all the seriousness of life but the speaker's 
pretenses; it is the exposure, not the expression, of his "inmost 
self.'" When Falstaff seems to be talking principle, he is, as we 
now say, only "putting it mildly": in his own time he gave himself 
away; in ours he takes the learned in. 

But the main reason for our failure to penetrate the mask is 
that in or out of soliloquy this particular method of dramatic expres- 
sion is a thing outworn, outgrown. Characters are no longer driven 
to banter or expose themselves, or the better audiences resent it if 
they are. Psychology — born of sjonpathy — will have none of it, 
as a method too external, ill-fitting, double-tongued. If the person 
be taken to be consciously jesting — the widow about wedding while 
mourning, Falstaff about the vanity of honor, or Robertson's 
Eccles about the wholesomeness of work — he seems then and there 
to be out of character; yet it is hard to see how he can have been 
unconscious, either, and it is manifest that the author is more intent 
on the jest, or, in the case of Quickly above, on the double entendre, 
than on the main or philosophic drift; — and yet (once again) this 
self-consciousness and mirth surely do not imply, as in the writing 
of today they must needs imply, "freedom" or detachment, any 
measure of indifference or superiority to the pleasure of incontinently 

'See my articles; "Anachronism in Shakespeare Criticism," Modern Philology, 
April, 1910, pp. 561-62; "Criminals in Shakespeare," ibid.. July, 1912, pp. 68-69; 
"Hamlet and lago." Such cases as the present or such as Hamlet's self-reproaches are 
the only ones where statements in soliloquy are to be discounted. Nothing subconscious 
can be intended. 

' Much Ado, II, ill, 227-55. Wetz compares this soUloquy with Falstafl's. 
« Wetz, pp. 402-3, quoting Rotscher. 


102 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

taking one's valet, keeping one's arms and legs whole, or sponging 
in bibulous sloth. The pith of the matter, then, is that the lines 
of the character are, for us, confused, the author seems to peer 
through and wink at the audience, and our modern sympathy and 
craving for reality are vexed and thwarted, somewhat as they are 
by the self-consciousness of the villains or by the butt-and-wit-in-one. 
Indeed, unless the character be taken to be unconscious, we seem here 
to have a case of butt-and-wit-in-one at one and the same moment. 
For these reasons this method of comic portrayal, which goes back 
at least to the Middle Ages, and occurs not only in Elizabethan comic 
drama but in the greatest comic drama since — -in Congreve, Sheri- 
dan, not to mention Moliere — has, like butt-and-wit-in-one or self- 
conscious villainy, been dropped by the modern spirit as a strange, 
ill-fitting garment, and, since Robertson and Gilbert, has been rele- 
gated to frank satire and farce. 

How petty and personal Falstaff's philosophy is on the face of it! 
Bulthaupt, Gervinus, Ulrici, Rotscher, and others after them speak 
of him sapping the foundations of morality, and Bulthaupt com- 
pares him "picking the notion of honor to pieces" with Trast in 
Sudermaim's Ehre ! There indeed, or in Arms and the Man, or in 
Major Barbara, honor reels and totters; but here it comes "unsought 
for," "pricks" our captain on, and drives him to hide from before 
its face. By word and by deed he shows that he is not more indiffer- 
ent to a soldier's honor than is Sganarelle to a husband's, and like 
him he snatches it greedily when he can. It is the "grin" that he 
"likes not," and since the beginning of things no philosophy has been 
needed for that. 

For Falstaff is simple as the dramatist and his times. By him 
the chivalric ideal is never questioned; Hotspur is comical only for 
his testiness, not for the extravagance and fanaticism of his derring- 
do. To some critics Fals taff seems a parody or burlesque of knigh t- 
hood, and tney_ ^ are remin ded of the contemporary Quixote an d his 
"Squire! But the only parallel or contrast^ between knight and 

iThe parallels discovered by Ulrici (Book VI, chap. 7), such as the robbery as a 
withering travesty of the Hotspur rebellion, or the whole Falstaff episode as intended to 
parody the hollow pathos of the political history and to assist in scattering the vain 
deceptive halo with which it has been surrounded, are further symptoms of the craving 
for unity from which all impressionistic and philosophical critics suffer. 


Falstaff 103 

clown suggested is on the battlefield, and there as in Calderon's 
comedies the ridicule is directed at the clown alone. In the story 
of Cervantes himself it is so; the chivalric ideal stands unchallenged, 
though the romantic and sentimental extravagances are scattered 
like the rear of darkness thin. Even by these Shakespeare is 
untroubled, and true to the spirit of the Renaissance all his heroes 
cherish their fame and worship glory. To him as to Moliere and 
Cervantes himself Moron's confession that he had rather live two 
days in the world than a thousand years in history,' would, even in 
less compromising circumstances, have seemed but clownish and 
craven, though to us it would seem neither, in our mystical adoration 
of life and indifference to fame. "Give me life!" — we sadly mis- 
take the ascetic, stoical, chivalric principles, coming down from the 
earliest times through the Renaissance even to our own, if we fancy 
that in England or in Italy^ there were many who could keep a 
good conscience and say it. Romeo, Hamlet, Brutus, Othello and 
Desdemona, Antony and his queen, are, like the ancients, far from 
saying it, though only happiness, not honor, is at stake. The men 
of the Renaissance loved life because they had found it sweet, but — 
especially the Elizabethans — they had not learned to think much 
better of it than the world had thought before. They loved it as 
well as we, but not, like us, from principle and as a tenet of their 

As incapable as is Shakespeare (in the person of his heroes) of 
swerving from the conventional standard of honor himself, so 
incapable is he of comprehending those who swerve. For his clowns 
the standard is set as for his villains. Sometimes, indeed, though 
only as rebels, the villains set up a standard of their own, as when 
lago asserts the supremacy of his will, calls virtue a fig and repu- 
tation an idle and most false imposition.' But Falstaff is neither 
rebel nor critic. As clown he is supposed to have neither philosophy 
nor anti-philosophy, being a comic contrast and appendage to the 
heroes and the heroic point of view. His cavilings at honor are made 

1 Princesse d' Elide, I, ii. 

' Bruno would have come nearest to it. Men like Aretino, as in bis letter to Strczzi, 
in 1537, say it cynically. When moved, all EUzabethans, at least in plays, think of death, 
and so do the Italians of the Renaissance. This subject I hope later to develop more 

3 Othello. I, iii, 321-33; II, iii, 266-70. 


!03E*a!KffiM:., , jAiiStis:- 

104 Elmer Edgae Stoll 

utterly nugatory and frivolous, and his jokes are but telltale wards 
and feints. Like all stage cowards from Colin to Acres he fulfils 
the requirements of Mr. Bradley's definition, "feehng a painful fear 
in the presence of danger and yielding to that fear in spite of his 
better feelings and convictions." There indeed lies the old-time 
humor of our knight on the battlefield — quaking and joking as 
honor pricks him on! As in his fits of remorse or in his incompre- 
hensible lies, he is not merry but " an object of mirth." He is funny 
not because he feigns and really is "free," but because at uncom- 
fortable moments he pulls so hard on the bit. On his deathbed, 
I suppose, he was not feigning, and no enfranchised "Ephesian" 
would there have cried out of sack,' of women — or the Whore of 
Babylon, as Quickly's loyalty and piety would have it. 

In that last glimpse is none of the subtlety or indulgence of today. 
According to Mackenzie, the Man of Feeling, his cowardice is "less 
a weakness than a principle." He lives as he thinks, as how few of 
us do! He renounces the "grinning idol," thinks Sir Walter Raleigh, 
and "runs away or counterfeits death with more courage than 
others show in deeds of knightly daring." How a saying like that 
makes the world whirl round us again in the familiar Ptolemaic 
fashion!- Such transcendental paradox on the one hand, such indul- 
gence to temperament and principle on the other, were unknown to 
the Sage of Stratford and his time. As I have shown in connection 
with Shylock' and the villains, if so Falstaff should think, the worse 
for him! But the fact is, as we have seen, that Shakespeare has 
Falstaff at heart think like everyone else, and calls a spade a spade. 
For him and his fellows a coward is such regardless of distinctions 
between character and conduct, constitution and principle, and 
might as well at once have done with them and stick the rabbit scut 
in his hat. In the comedies of Morgann's own day, as in the medi- 
aeval farces, all extenuating distinctions were without a difference. 
"Look 'ee. Sir Lucius," cries Bob Acres, like another Colin or Jode- 
let; " 'tisn't that I mind the word coward — coward may be said in 

'Giuseppe Barone (Un Anienaio di Falstaff) mistakes the e.xpression, and has him 
cry out for sacli and women. Just so he would have been presented today: llying or 
dying, oior funny men are not troubled with compunctions. 

> The great merit of Sir Walter Raleigh's book is that as a whole it does not do this. 

'In Shylock, pp. 270-71. 

236 . . 

Falstaff 105 

joke. But if you had called me a poltroon, odds daggers and balls!" 
And when in mellower times Mr. Shaw in Candida attempted to 
establish a difference, and to represent, not one cowardly in principle 
and courageous by constitution, but one courageous in principle 
and cowardly by constitution — a compound less dubious and mis- 
takable — what a deal of exposition and manipulation was required! 

Subtihzed and also sentimentahzed ! Mr. Bradley does not 
mind saying that he for one is glad that Falstaff ran away on Gadshill; 
M. Stapfer declares that morally he was no worse than you or I ; and 
Hazlitt, lost in sympathy with Falstaff in the blighting of his hopes 
at the succession, resentfully asserts that he was a better man than 
the Prince. That is, the character is lifted bodily out of the drama- 
tist's reach. Falstaff is a rogue, and people cannot like him : twice 
Morgann protests that in order to be comical at all he must be "void 
of evil motive." Lying for profit and jesting for profit, the cheating 
and swindling of your unsophisticated admirers, gluttony, lechery, 
extortion, highway robbery, and cowardice — pray, what is funny 
about all these? Hence the profit has been turned to jest, the 
misdemeanors to make-believe. Not otherwise Hercules in the 
Alcestis was thought by Browning to get roaring drunk, not for his 
own private satisfaction but for that of the mourners' — and there is 
another who in the good cause of human happiness does not mind 
making a fool of himself ! So it must be when we take a character to 
our bosoms out of an old play like a pet out of the jungle — we must 
extract his sting. This by the critics has been duly done, to Falstaff 
as to Shylock. Our "white-bearded Satan" has had his claws pared. 

For those who have not learned to think historically cannot 
stomach the picaresque. It matters not to them that nearly all the 
professional comic characters of Elizabethan drama, as of all drama 
before it, have a vein of roguery in them — Sir Toby as well as Au- 
tolycus, the Clown as well as the Vice; or that in those days high 
and low were rejoicing in the roguery romances, English, French, or 
Spanish. Yet these people delighted in Falstaff as unreservedly as 
does the Prince in the play. That they did not take him for an 
innocuous mimic and merrymaker numerous allusions in the seven- 
teenth century, as we have already seen, attest. And Hal loved 

1 See Jebb's comment, article "Euripides," Encyclopaedia Brittannica. 


106 Elmer Edgar Stoll 

him as Morgante loved Margutte, as Baldus loved Cingar, and Pan- 
tagruel — "all his life long" — loved Panurge, not for his humor only 
but for his lies and deviltry. They had their notions of "a charac- 
ter" as we have ours. With endless variety of repetition, Rabelais 
revels in notions of drunkenness, gluttony, lasciviousness, and in 
tricks of cheating and cruelty, as things funny in themselves. With 
what gusto he tells of the outrages perpetrated by Panurge on the 
watch, the difficult Parisian lady, and Dingdong and his flock, and 
of Friar John's slaying and curiously and expertly mutilating his 
thousands with the staff of the cross in the abbey close! And yet, 
frowning down the facts, the critics declare that Falstaff had no 
malice in him,' and though he laments the repayment had no inten- 
tion of keeping the stolen money, repaid Quickly full measure and 
running over with his company, and after all did no mentionable 
injury to Shallow, who had land and beeves. "Where does he 
cheat the weak," cries Magiim, "or prey upon the poor?" There 
is Quickly, poor, and weak at least before his blandishments, 
"made to serve his uses both in purse and in person"; and there 
are Bullcalf, who has a desire to stay with his friends, and Mouldy, 
whose dame is old and cannot help herself, both swindled in the 
name of the King, as Wart, Feeble, and Shadow, the unlikeliest 
men, are wrongfully pressed into service. All this once was funny, 
and now is base and pitiful,^ but why should we either shut our 
eyes to it or bewail it? Surely we cannot with Morgann make 
allowances for his age and corpulency (how that would have staggered 
an Elizabethan !) and corrupting associations; or with Maginn trace 
the pathos of his degradation, hope after hope breaking down; or 
with Swinburne discover the well of tenderness within him, his heart 
being "fracted and corroborate," not for material disappointment, 
but for wounded love.' With this last the present Chief Secretary 

1 Raleigh, p. 189; Wolff, I, p. 423; cf. Part II, 111, ii, 353-57; IV, iii, 137-42. 

2 The scenes (Part I, III, iii; Part II, II, i) where Falstaff, upbraided by Quickly, 
retorts in chirk and clever vein, resemble the scene in Le Medecin malgre lui where Sgana- 
relle does the same to his long-suffering wife. And the scene where the latter imposes 
on the country bumpkins with fraudulent remedies resembles that in which Falstaff 
and Bardolph fleece the conscripts. 

' If Shakespeare means that he really is heartbroken (which Mr. Birrell denies) it 
is not the first or the last time that the dramatist permits himself a bit of sentiment 
upon the death of the unworthy. 


Falstaff 107 

for Ireland is properly disgusted, though in being less sentimental 
he is hardly more Elizabethan in spirit as he calls him "in a very 
real sense a terrible character, so old and so profane "I^ Yet Mr. 
Birrell remembers him (where others have been glad to forget him) 
with Doll at the Boar's Head, and he reads an unexpurgated text. 
And if he does not look with the eyes of an Elizabethan, he looks 
with his own, and sees the old rogue and satjT in his heathen naked- 
ness, not in the breeches that, like Volterra in the Sistine, the critics 
have hastened to make him. 

Morals and sentiments alike, in the lapse of time, obliterate 
humor. Laughter is essentially a geste social, as Meredith and Pro- 
fessor Bergson have truly told us; and the immediate and necessary 
inference, which no doubt they themselves would have drawn, is that 
it languishes when the tickled mores change. Much that was fuimy 
to the Elizabethans or to the court of the Grand Monarch has since 
become pathetic, as in Shylock and Harpagon, Alceste and Georges 
Dandin, and "disgusting" or even " terrible," as in Falstaff or Tartuffe. 
Of this we have just seen repeated instances, and of the process of criti- 
cal emasculation which in consequence ensues. Even the form and 
fashion of the older humor has given offense. Most of the English 
critics apparently have not seen Falstaff on the stage, but those who 
have cannot recall him there without a shudder. The roaring, the 
falling fiat, and above all the padding — "a very little stuffing," one 
of them pleads, "would answer all the requirements of the part."^ 
And the padded bulk of his humor, as of his person — "out of all 
measure, out of all compass" — about his name being terrible to the 
enemy and known to all Europe, and Turk Gregory never doing such 
deeds, is so reduced by anachronizing Procrustean critics as to contain 
"nothing but a light ridicule."^ His ancestral ring seems to have 
been really of gold, not copper, "though probably a little too much 

iRenaissance Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II, pp. xvi, X'V'iii. Cf. p. xv: "Falstaff's 
words 'Kiss mo, Doll,' followed by his cry, 'I am old, I am old,' together with other 
touches in the same scene, might well stand for the last words of disgust and horror." 
They were meant, certainly, to be funny. Funniest of all, no doubt, was the worst, at 
the end of the scene, where Bardolph, from within, cries, "Bid Mistress Tearsheet come 
to my master," and motherly Mistress Quickly bids her run. 

' Eraser's, xlvi: p. 409; Morgann, p. 26, etc. 

' Morgann, pp. 41, 83; Bradley, Oxford Lectures, p. 2G7 — "must not be entirely 


108 Elmer Edgab Stoll 

alloyed with baser metal."^ And his "old ward," like his "man- 
hood," Hal might have remembered if he would.^ What of the 
multitudiaous knaves in buckram and Kendal green, or of the knight 
himself at Hal's age not an eagle's talon in the waist or an alder- 
man's thumb-ring, or of the nine score and odd posts he foimdered 
as he devoured the road to battle in Gaultree Forest ? Even his 
laugh, which must have been big as his body, riotous as his fancy, 
lingering and reverberating as the repetitions of his tongue,' has been 
taken away.^ "The wit is from the head, not the heart. It is any- 
thing but fun." If we are to depend on stage directions there is 
no laughter in Sir Toby either, or almost any other jovial soul in 
Shakespeare. In robbing these fat knights of their fun critical 
treason has well-nigh done its worst, though before that it robbed 
audiences (at the cost of truth though to the profit of morals) of the 
fun got from Shylock, Harpagon, Dandin, and Tartuffe. On the stage 
and in the study much of the comedy in Shakespeare and Moli^re has 
been smothered out of them from the Romantic Revival* unto this 
day, and yet we smile at the Middle Ages Christianizing the classics. 

Elmer Edgar Stoll 
University op Minnesota 
Minneapolis, Minn. 

' Morgann, p. 54. 

» Ibid., p. 148. 

' This rolling of his jest as a sweet morsel between his lips is one of his most striking 
traits: as "food for powder, food for powder; they'll fill a pit as well as better. Tush, 
man, mortal men, mortal men I" Cf. "I am old, I am old"; and the manifold repetitions 
In Part I, II, iv. 

* Maginn, p. 56: "he never laughs." 

' This is a subject to which I hope to retiu-n. 


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